Recipes: Taking New Year’s Day meals beyond hoppin’ John

To go with black-eyed peas and a pot of greens on New Year's Day, you can try (from left) Erin French’s Slow-Roasted Pork Picnic Shoulder with Cinnamon & Rosemary, Raul Dominguez’s Ropa Vieja, or Toni Tipton-Martin’s Catfish Étouffée. Styling by Wendell Brock / Chris Hunt for the AJC
Caption
To go with black-eyed peas and a pot of greens on New Year's Day, you can try (from left) Erin French’s Slow-Roasted Pork Picnic Shoulder with Cinnamon & Rosemary, Raul Dominguez’s Ropa Vieja, or Toni Tipton-Martin’s Catfish Étouffée. Styling by Wendell Brock / Chris Hunt for the AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

From pork to catfish, three main courses to serve with traditional holiday fare.

When I was a child, I took my mother’s New Year’s superstitions somewhat literally.

Greens for folding money. Black-eyed peas for coins. She’d call our wonderful neighbor, Mr. Roy Boutwell, and ask him to come over first thing. Seems fortune won’t smile on you if the first person to enter your house on Jan. 1 is not some fine, upstanding example of a man.

Today I know these New Year’s rituals are more about tradition and fun than logic and expectation. And, yet, when it comes to money, luck and health, I’m not one to risk it, not after 2020.

Besides, I love collards, kale, mustard, cabbage or turnip greens, simmered with hog jowl, ham hock or bacon; a wedge of cornbread for sopping up the pot liquor; and a bowl of black-eyed peas with rice. (That would be hoppin’ John in some quarters.) Just bring on the chow-chow; the chopped onion; the hot sauce and that Southern staple, pepper sauce.

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So here’s how I spend every New Year’s: First, I get the greens and peas to boiling. Then I fix a bloody mary. Unless I forget to bake the cornbread, this midafternoon meal virtually finishes itself. Over the years, I’ve found this simple menu to be a gracious plenty for family and friends. Still, sometimes you want to set a fancier table, in which case there’s the matter of the main.

What to cook?

Pork seems to be a New Year’s Day go-to for many. You can’t go wrong with Boston butt or picnic shoulder, remarkably forgiving cuts that render magnificent, falling-apart tender meat, whether smoked on a grill or roasted for hours in the oven. Pork chops are another winner. I’m a big fan of Atlanta chef Anne Quatrano’s Browned Pork Chops with Tomato Gravy. Fried in bacon fat, finished in the oven, smothered in tomatoes and served with the actual bacon crumbled on top, the chops are country cooking at its finest, elegant enough for company, too.

Tomatoes and spice are a good way to perk up food that pairs well with rice. You can find many examples scattered throughout the African diaspora, from the American South to the Caribbean to Brazil.

Caption
Raul Dominguez. Courtesy of Bar Mercado

Credit: Courtesy of Bar Mercado

Raul Dominguez. Courtesy of Bar Mercado
Caption
Raul Dominguez. Courtesy of Bar Mercado

Credit: Courtesy of Bar Mercado

Credit: Courtesy of Bar Mercado

Raul Dominguez, the executive chef at Bar Mercado at Krog Street Market, makes an exquisite ropa vieja, the classic Cuban dish of shredded beef with a name that translates, appropriately, as “old clothes.” For his elevated version, Dominguez braises short ribs in wine from Rioja, Spain. When I asked for a recipe to cook at home, he suggested chuck flap, a less expensive cut that pulls apart nicely after a long braise. If you have time, make Dominguez’s ropa the day before; it’s better after a night’s rest in the fridge.

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As I researched this story, I found many wonderful ideas in Marcus Samuelsson’s new cookbook, “The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food” (Little Brown, $38), in which the celebrity chef pays tribute to Black cooks that make America great. I’m intrigued by his Coconut Fried Chicken with Sweet Hot Sauce and Platanos; Shrimp Fritters with Bitter Greens and Grapefruit; Country-Style Spare Ribs with Pickled Greens Slaw; Good Vibes Curry Goat; and Fish Cakes with Birmingham Greens Salad. (The latter is a love letter to Mashama Bailey, executive chef and partner at the Grey in Savannah.) Note that some of these offerings include a green component, so you can check that off your eating agenda for the day.

Caption
From top on left: Erin French’s Slow-Roasted Pork Picnic Shoulder with Cinnamon & Rosemary, Raul Dominguez’s Ropa Vieja, and Toni Tipton-Martin’s Catfish Étouffée. (Styling by Wendell Brock / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

From top on left: Erin French’s Slow-Roasted Pork Picnic Shoulder with Cinnamon & Rosemary, Raul Dominguez’s Ropa Vieja, and Toni Tipton-Martin’s Catfish Étouffée. (Styling by Wendell Brock / Chris Hunt for the AJC)
Caption
From top on left: Erin French’s Slow-Roasted Pork Picnic Shoulder with Cinnamon & Rosemary, Raul Dominguez’s Ropa Vieja, and Toni Tipton-Martin’s Catfish Étouffée. (Styling by Wendell Brock / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Another bounty of inspiration for a New Year’s feast is Toni Tipton-Martin’s “Jubilee: Recipes From Two Centuries of African American Cooking.” Perusing this essential book, I drool over Caribbean Roast Pork, Jamaican Jerk Ribs, Pork Chops with Rich Lemon Caper Sauce, Creole Fried Chicken, Louisiana Barbecue Shrimp, and the recipe I ultimately tested and loved: Catfish Étouffée. That is some good gravy, y’all.

Now back to the ever-popular pork. A few years ago, I tried Erin French’s Slow-Roasted Pork Picnic Shoulder with Cinnamon & Rosemary. Turns out this Yankee chef from Maine knows from pig. I tested it again for this story; once more, it blew me away.

Here’s a superstition for you: Savor good food on New Year’s Day, and you’ll eat well all year long. I just made that up. But I bet Mama would approve.

Recipes: Main dishes for the New Year’s Table

New Year’s rituals are more about tradition and fun than logic and expectation. Traditional sides include collards, black-eye peas and cornbread.

Caption
Raul Dominguez, the executive chef at Atlanta's Bar Mercado, makes an exquisite ropa vieja, the classic Cuban dish of shredded beef with a name that translates, appropriately, as "old clothes." For his elevated version, Dominguez braises short rib in Rioja wine from Spain. When we asked for a recipe to make at home, he suggested chuck flap, a less expensive cut that shreds nicely after a long braise. (Styling by Wendell Brock / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Raul Dominguez, the executive chef at Atlanta's Bar Mercado, makes an exquisite ropa vieja, the classic Cuban dish of shredded beef with a name that translates, appropriately, as "old clothes." For his elevated version, Dominguez braises short rib in Rioja wine from Spain. When we asked for a recipe to make at home, he suggested chuck flap, a less expensive cut that shreds nicely after a long braise. (Styling by Wendell Brock / Chris Hunt for the AJC)
Caption
Raul Dominguez, the executive chef at Atlanta's Bar Mercado, makes an exquisite ropa vieja, the classic Cuban dish of shredded beef with a name that translates, appropriately, as "old clothes." For his elevated version, Dominguez braises short rib in Rioja wine from Spain. When we asked for a recipe to make at home, he suggested chuck flap, a less expensive cut that shreds nicely after a long braise. (Styling by Wendell Brock / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Raul Dominguez’s Ropa Vieja

Dominguez, the executive chef at Bar Mercado, serves his ropa with black beans, rice and fried yucca. For New Year’s Day, we’ll go with rice, black-eyed peas and a pot of collards. For a colorful presentation, Dominguez suggests sauteing sliced onions and peppers, and adding that to the platter. That’s an extra step that may not be necessary, considering how the ropa shines on its own.

Raul Dominguez’s Ropa Vieja
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 pounds chuck flap
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, julienned
  • 2 red bell peppers, julienned
  • 2 green bell peppers, julienned
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine, preferably Spanish Rioja
  • 1 cup sofrito (Dominguez suggests Goya sofrito tomato cooking base; look for the red label)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 3 teaspoons Mexican oregano
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 quart beef broth, store-bought or homemade (I used Swanson’s brand)
  • 1-2 cups of sauteed, sweet and hot peppers and onions (optional, for garnish)
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced scallions (green and white parts)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
  • Salt the chuck flap generously with kosher salt on both sides.
  • Place the oil in a Dutch oven or heavy lidded pot over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, place beef in pan, and sear on all sides until deeply browned, about 5 minutes per side. Remove beef from pot, and place on a plate. (If your chuck flap was pre-sliced by the butcher, you may need to brown it in batches, adding more oil to the pan, as needed.)
  • Toss in onion, red bell pepper and green bell pepper. Lower heat to medium, and saute until the vegetables are tender, about 5-7 minutes. Once the onions are translucent, add garlic and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, mixing thoroughly. Add red wine, and cook for about 5 minutes to reduce. (You want to cook out most of the liquid.) Add sofrito, cumin, Mexican oregano, bay leaves, brown sugar, red wine vinegar, soy sauce and beef broth. Turn heat up to medium-high, and bring to a simmer, stirring well.
  • When ready to serve, transfer the beef to a large serving bowl or platter. Shred the meat, and pour sauce over it. If using the (optional) sauteed peppers and onions, add them to the dish. Garnish with scallions and cilantro. Serves 6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 574 calories (percent of calories from fat, 52), 51 grams protein, 15 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 32 grams total fat (11 grams saturated), 148 milligrams cholesterol, 1,358 milligrams sodium.

Caption
This Catfish Étouffée is from Toni Tipton-Martin's "Jubilee: Recipes From Two Centuries of African American Cooking" (Clarkson Potter). The dish makes for an excellent main course to pair with traditional New Year's Day fare of greens and black-eyed peas. (Styling by Wendell Brock / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

This Catfish Étouffée is from Toni Tipton-Martin's "Jubilee: Recipes From Two Centuries of African American Cooking" (Clarkson Potter). The dish makes for an excellent main course to pair with traditional New Year's Day fare of greens and black-eyed peas. (Styling by Wendell Brock / Chris Hunt for the AJC)
Caption
This Catfish Étouffée is from Toni Tipton-Martin's "Jubilee: Recipes From Two Centuries of African American Cooking" (Clarkson Potter). The dish makes for an excellent main course to pair with traditional New Year's Day fare of greens and black-eyed peas. (Styling by Wendell Brock / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Toni Tipton-Martin’s Catfish Étouffée

Louisiana’s étouffées are traditionally made with shellfish, but Tipton-Martin opts for catfish smother-fried in a rich, buttery, somewhat spicy gravy. Serve with rice or grits.

Toni Tipton-Martin’s Catfish Étouffée
  • 1 pound catfish fillets (or any other firm-fleshed white fish), cut into 4-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • 2 tablespoons minced green bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons minced celery
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 cups fish stock, warmed (may use chicken, turkey or vegetable stock), divided
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons minced green onions
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • Freshly cooked rice
  • Place the catfish pieces on a plate and dry with paper towel to help seasonings adhere to the fish. In a small bowl, combine the cayenne, salt, black pepper and thyme. Season the fillets with half of the seasoning mixture.
  • In a large skillet, heat the oil over high heat until sizzling and nearly smoking. Reduce the heat to medium-high. Gradually whisk in the flour until smooth. Cook, stirring constantly, until the roux is medium-brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, bay leaf, and remaining seasoning mixture. Return to the heat, and cook, stirring constantly, until the vegetables are softened, about 2 minutes. Gradually stir in 1/2 cup of the warm fish stock and the tomato paste, and stir until the sauce begins to thicken, about 1 minute, then remove from the heat.
  • In a separate skillet, heat 4 tablespoons of the butter until sizzling over medium to medium-high heat. Add the catfish and green onions and cook until the catfish is opaque (it does not need to brown), 2 to 3 minutes per side.
  • Transfer the fish (including the butter and onions); the remaining 4 tablespoons butter, and the remaining 1 cup stock to the skillet with the vegetables and cook for 3-5 minutes, shaking or stirring the pan constantly to melt the butter and emulsify it into a rich sauce. Remove and discard bay leaf. Sprinkle the étouffée with the parsley and serve over rice. Serves 4.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, without rice: 619 calories (percent of calories from fat, 78), 23 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 54 grams total fat (20 grams saturated), 127 milligrams cholesterol, 614 milligrams sodium.

Adapted from “Jubilee: Recipes From Two Centuries of African American Cooking” by Toni Tipton-Martin (Clarkson Potter, $35).

Caption
Chef Erin French runs the Lost Kitchen in her hometown of Freedom, Maine. We love her Slow-Roasted Pork Picnic Shoulder with Cinnamon & Rosemary, from her cookbook, "The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine" (Clarkson Potter). Cooked for five hours, the meat comes out ultra-tender, and the spice rub gives it a nice crusty bark. It's a super simple recipe, but you'll need to get started the day before, coating the pork with the rub and refrigerating overnight. We used boneless Boston butt. (Styling by Wendell Brock / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Chef Erin French runs the Lost Kitchen in her hometown of Freedom, Maine. We love her Slow-Roasted Pork Picnic Shoulder with Cinnamon & Rosemary, from her cookbook, "The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine" (Clarkson Potter). Cooked for five hours, the meat comes out ultra-tender, and the spice rub gives it a nice crusty bark. It's a super simple recipe, but you'll need to get started the day before, coating the pork with the rub and refrigerating overnight. We used boneless Boston butt. (Styling by Wendell Brock / Chris Hunt for the AJC)
Caption
Chef Erin French runs the Lost Kitchen in her hometown of Freedom, Maine. We love her Slow-Roasted Pork Picnic Shoulder with Cinnamon & Rosemary, from her cookbook, "The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine" (Clarkson Potter). Cooked for five hours, the meat comes out ultra-tender, and the spice rub gives it a nice crusty bark. It's a super simple recipe, but you'll need to get started the day before, coating the pork with the rub and refrigerating overnight. We used boneless Boston butt. (Styling by Wendell Brock / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Erin French’s Slow-Roasted Pork Picnic Shoulder with Cinnamon & Rosemary

From the chef behind the Lost Kitchen in Freedom, Maine, this is a super-easy and somewhat surprising spin on roast pork. (It’s the cinnamon.) Cooked for five hours, the meat comes out ultra-tender, and the spice rub gives it a nice crusty bark. I used Boston butt, and the leftovers made fantastic tacos. One note: You’ll need to plan in advance. The recipe calls for coating the pork with the spice rub to marinate overnight.

Erin French’s Slow-Roasted Pork Picnic Shoulder with Cinnamon & Rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoons cracked black pepper
  • 1 pork picnic shoulder or Boston butt (about 3 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • In a small bowl, combine the rosemary, garlic, cinnamon, salt and pepper.
  • Slather the pork with the oil, and rub the spices into the meat. Put in a baking dish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
  • Take the pork out of the fridge for 30 minutes before roasting. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
  • Cover the pork with foil and roast for 5 hours.
  • Remove the foil and roast another 15 minutes. The pork should be browned and very tender. Remove the pork from the oven, and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serves 4-6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, based on 4: 706 calories (percent of calories from fat, 64), 60 grams protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 49 grams total fat (16 grams saturated), 211 milligrams cholesterol, 1,649 milligrams sodium.

Adapted from “The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine” by Erin French (Clarkson Potter, $32.50).

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