I love Mark Bittman dearly. And I’ve grown even fonder of him since he backed off his edict against canned beans. Sort of. He once offered a recipe with canned chickpeas (I’ll wait for the gasps to die down) and grudgingly admitted that canned beans were sometimes acceptable, but that dried beans were still better.
I don’t know about you, but for us, canned beans are one of the greatest cooking conveniences known to mankind. Yes, when we have the foresight and luxury of soaking beans overnight, we’ll sometimes do so. But honestly, the outcome is far from certain for me when I do. So naturally, when I had the chance to one up Mr. Bittman by skipping his dried legumes and cooking fresh black-eyed peas, I had to do it.
Not being a Southerner myself but being surrounded by southern relatives pretty much from birth on, black-eyed peas have never not been a part of my life. I’m sure some relatives cooked them fresh, but when my mother was in the kitchen, they always came from a can. So I took up that practice on the rare occasions I cooked with them – my Curried Steaks with Black-eyed Pea Salsa, for instance.
Still, more than one person has told me that fresh black-eyed peas were better than canned. So when I started noticing fresh, shelled black-eyed peas in the stores [hey, I still like my convenience], I started looking for excuses to experiment with them. I found one in the August issue of Bon Appétit: Skillet Sausages with Black-eyed Peas, Romano Beans and Tomatoes.
I’m often a fan of sausages, but studying this recipe and the accompanying photo, I found myself looking around the edges of the sausages to get a closer glimpse of everything else in the pan. And I decided that what I really wanted with the fresh black-eyed peas, tomatoes and beans was pan-roasted chicken, with a little bacon standing in for the absent sausages.
I also really wanted to use Romano [or Roma or Italian] beans, but they were suddenly nowhere to be found in Chicago. Not at our farmers market and not in any of the bazillion grocery stores and produce markets [Italian or otherwise] that I obsessively called. So I went for regular green beans, which the original recipe said would be fine. And they were, crisp tender and delicious. For the tomatoes, I totally lucked out. Marion is growing a couple of varieties of cherry tomatoes this summer and both are wonderful.
One-skillet Chicken with Black-eyed Peas and Cherry Tomatoes
8 Chicken drumsticks
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 rounded teaspoon dried thyme, divided (or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme – see Kitchen Notes)
2 tablespoons canola oil, plus extra
4 slices good quality bacon
1 medium onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine [editor's note: can substitute cooking wine]
1 11- or 12-ounce package shelled fresh black-eyed peas (see Kitchen Notes)
8 ounces fresh green beans, trimmed (see Kitchen Notes)
8 to 10 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved if large
1. Season chicken drumsticks with salt, pepper and half of dried thyme (if using fresh thyme, don’t add now). Heat a large, nonstick, lidded sauté pan or skillet over medium-high flame. Add 2 tablespoons canola oil and brown chicken on both sides, about five minutes per side. Turn off heat, transfer chicken to plate and wipe oil from skillet, but don’t wash it. Arrange bacon slices in skillet and cook over a medium flame, turning often, until bacon is crisp. Transfer bacon to a paper towel-covered plate to drain.
2. Pour off most of the bacon fat in skillet and drizzle in a little more canola oil. Sauté onion over medium heat until translucent, 3 or 4 minutes. Add garlic and remaining dried thyme to skillet and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add broth, wine and black-eyed peas to pan, stirring to combine.
3. Return chicken to pan, along with any juices, reduce heat to low, cover pan and simmer until peas are almost tender, about 12 minutes. Add green beans to pan, cover and cook an additional 4 minutes. Add tomatoes to pan and cook uncovered for 5 or 6 minutes, until tomatoes begin to split open and liquid coats back of spoon. (If you’re using fresh thyme, add it the last few minutes of the cooking time.) Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper as needed.
4. Spoon vegetable mixture into a shallow serving bowl and arrange chicken drumsticks on top of it and serve.
Thyme, fresh or dried? Yeah, it’s summertime and we should all be cooking with fresh herbs, right? For this dish, I actually prefer dried, because you add it to the chicken at the very beginning, helping infuse it with more flavor. Same thing with the vegetable mixture. Adding fresh herbs at the end will give you a big burst of aroma, but you’ll really only taste it when you get pieces of the thyme in a bite. And if you add fresh herbs at the beginning of the cooking process, their flavor tends to cook away.
Some fresh choices for black-eyed peas. The fresh shelled black-eyed peas did indeed deliver the nice nutty flavor the Bon Appétit recipe promised. If you can find unshelled peas [and the time to shell them], 1 generous pound of peas in pods will produce the 2 cups or so you need. If you can’t find either of these options, try next for frozen black-eyed peas and thaw them before cooking.
Roma [etcetera] beans. If you can find these, cut them into 3-inch pieces and cook just as I did the green beans. A word of warning, though. Some places will tell you that pole beans are the same thing. They’re not. They’re tougher and require longer cooking time.