Southerners are a superstitious lot, and New Year’s Day illustrates that fact perfectly. Three things every Southern table must see on New Year’s Day: black eyed peas, greens and some form of piggy. The black eyed peas symbolize luck, the greens money and the pork so we’ll live high off the hog in the coming year. If you’re really superstitious, as I am, you also put some silver coins outside the door on New Year’s Eve and bring them in New Year’s Day to symbolize prosperity for the coming year.
We are so obsessed with this superstition that we load up early on essentials so that we will not go without on New Year’s Day. A week before, you will hardly find a can of black eyed peas on the grocery shelves and the collards are well picked over. I don’t know how my good friends up North have any luck at all since I understand black eyed peas are not widely available up there.
I have been making the traditional New Year’s Day menu for well over thirty years and it’s always a challenge to come up with something new. I’ve done black eyed pea fritters, black eyed pea salad, wilted spinach with lemon and garlic, pork loin, pork tenderloin, ham…you name it. This year, I decided on Dirty Rice.
Dirty Rice started out as a Cajun specialty in which chicken livers and giblets were added to white rice, making it appear “dirty.” But Dirty Rice has pretty much spread throughout the South and in many parts of the region, sausage has replaced the livers and giblets. Like any good casserole, there are no rules. Add whatever you like and leave out whatever you don’t. This year, of course, mine had to include the sausage, spinach and black eyed peas so that it met the “good luck” requirement.
Oh, and cornbread. I don’t know why cornbread is not a requirement for this meal. It should be.
New Year’s Day Dirty Rice
1 pound bulk sausage, preferably Tennessee Pride sage
1 stalk celery diced, including leaves
1 small onion, diced
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 15.8-ounce can black eyed peas, drained and rinsed
¼ cup chicken stock
10-ounces cooked rice
5-6 healthy drops of hot sauce
Brown the sausage in a large skillet not only until the sausage is cooked through but until there are a goodly number of browned bits throughout the sausage. Remove from pan and reserve.
Saute the celery and onion over medium heat in 2 tablespoons of the remaining sausage grease. Add the chopped spinach, black eyed peas and stock. Cook until the stock reduces by half. If the mixture seems dry, add a little more stock. Stir in the rice, sausage and hot sauce.