On New Year’s Day, grandmothers throughout the American South serve up steaming bowls of black-eyed peas, pork, greens and cornbread. According to tradition, eating these dishes will bring you wealth, good luck and good health in the coming year.

Copyright © 2014 / Peter Frank Edwards

Copyright © 2014 / Peter Frank Edwards

Chef Sean Brock, owner of HUSK restaurants in Charleston and Nashville, grew up in Virginia eating the superstitious New Year’s Day meal. His new book, Heritage, honors the folklore with recipes for Cracklin’ Cornbread, Lowcountry Hoppin’ John (a pea dish) and a leafy Watermelon and Red Onion Salad.

Cracklin’ Cornbread
Makes one 9-inch round loaf

Chef’s Note: My favorite ball cap, made by Billy Reid, has a patch on the front that reads “Make Cornbread, Not War.” I’m drawn to it because cornbread is a sacred thing in the South, almost a way of life. But cornbread, like barbeque, can be the subject of great debate among Southerners. Flour or no flour? Sugar or no sugar? Is there an egg involved? All are legitimate questions.

When we opened Husk, I knew that we had to serve cornbread. I also knew that there is a lot of bad cornbread out there in the restaurant world, usually cooked before service and reheated, or held in a warming drawer. I won’t touch that stuff because, yes, I am a cornbread snob. My cornbread has no flour and no sugar. It has the tang of good buttermilk and a little smoke from Allan Benton’s smokehouse bacon. You’ve got to cook the cornbread just before you want to eat it, in a black skillet, with plenty of smoking-hot grease. That is the secret to a golden, crunchy exterior. Use very high heat, so hot that the batter screeches as it hits the pan. It’s a deceptively simple process, but practice makes perfect, which may be why many Southerners make cornbread every single day.

4 ounces bacon, preferably Benton’s
2 cups cornmeal, preferably Anson Mills Antebellum Coarse Yellow Cornmeal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1½ cups whole-milk buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Put a 9-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven to preheat for at least 10 minutes.

  2. Run the bacon through a meat grinder or very finely mince it. Put the bacon in a skillet large enough to hold it in one layer and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently so that it doesn’t burn, until the fat is rendered and the bits of bacon are crispy, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the bits of bacon to a paper towel to drain, reserving the fat. You need 5 tablespoons bacon fat for this recipe.

  3. Combine the cornmeal, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and bits of bacon in a medium bowl. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat and combine the remaining 4 tablespoons fat, the buttermilk, and egg in a small bowl. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just to combine; do not overmix.

  4. Move the skillet from the oven to the stove, placing it over high heat. Add the reserved tablespoon of bacon fat and swirl to coat the skillet. Pour in the batter, distributing it evenly. It should sizzle.

  5. Bake the cornbread for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm from the skillet.

Excerpted from Heritage by Sean Brock (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Peter Frank Edwards.

Excerpted from Heritage by Sean Brock (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Peter Frank Edwards.

Lowcountry Hoppin’ John
Serves 6 to 8

2 quarts pork stock or chicken stock
1 cup Anson Mills Sea Island Red Peas, soaked in a pot of water in the refrigerator overnight
1½ cups medium dice onions
1 cup medium dice peeled carrots
1½ cups medium dice celery
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 fresh bay leaf
10 thyme sprigs
½ jalapeño, chopped
Kosher salt

4 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup Anson Mills Carolina Gold Rice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

Red Pea Gravy
Reserved 1 cup cooked red peas
Reserved 2 cups cooking liquid from the peas
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Cider vinegar
Sliced chives or scallions for garnish

For the peas:

  1. Bring the stock to a simmer in a small pot. Drain the peas and add to the stock, along with all of the remaining ingredients except the salt. Cook the peas, partially covered, over low heat until they are soft, about 1 hour. Season to taste with salt. (The peas can be cooked ahead and refrigerated in their liquid for up to 3 days; reheat, covered, over low heat before proceeding.)

  2. Drain the peas, reserving their cooking liquid, and measure out 1 cup peas and 2 cups liquid for the gravy; return the rest of the peas and liquid to the pot and keep warm.

Meanwhile, for the rice:

  1. About 45 minutes before the peas are cooked, preheat the oven to 300°F.

  2. Bring the water, salt, and cayenne pepper to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, add the rice, stir once, and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the rice is al dente, about 15 minutes.

  3. Drain the rice in a sieve and rinse under cold water. Spread the rice out on a rimmed baking sheet. Dry the rice in the oven, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Scatter the butter evenly over the rice and continue to dry it, stirring every few minutes, for about 5 minutes longer. All excess moisture should have evaporated and the grains should be dry and separate.

For the gravy:
Put the 1 cup peas, 2 cups cooking liquid, and the butter in a blender and blend on high until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add cider vinegar to taste.

(The gravy can be made up to 3 days ahead and kept in a covered container in the refrigerator; reheat, covered, over the lowest possible heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.)

To complete:
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the peas to a large serving bowl. Add the rice and carefully toss the rice and peas together. Pour the gravy over them, sprinkle with chives or scallions, and serve.

Excerpted from Heritage by Sean Brock (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Peter Frank Edwards

Excerpted from Heritage by Sean Brock (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Peter Frank Edwards

Watermelon and Red Onion Salad with Bibb Lettuce, Pickled Shrimp, and Jalapeño Vinaigrette
Serves 6 as an appetizer or a light lunch

Chef’s Note: Pickled shrimp are an old standby in Charleston; you’ll see them all around town at dinner parties and as a bar snack. They date back to at least the late eighteenth century, when Harriot Pinckney Horry included them in her plantation receipt book. You can serve the shrimp on their own—we pass them as bar snacks at Husk—or pair them with preparations like this watermelon salad, making a dish substantial enough for a light lunch. I always get a few strange looks when I pair watermelon with savory ingredients, but the acidity of something like pickled shrimp goes really well with the sweetness of the fruit.

(Note that the pickled shrimp must cure for at least 2 days.)

Pickled Shrimp
2 cups white vinegar
1 cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup fresh orange juice
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon fennel pollen
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 fresh bay leaf
1½ pounds large shrimp (16–20 count), peeled and deveined

Jalapeño Vinaigrette
3 jalapeño peppers, seeded and diced
Grated zest of 1 lime (use a Microplane)
½ cup fresh lime juice
1½ teaspoons sugar
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
¾ cup canola oil
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 head Bibb lettuce, separated into leaves, washed, and patted dry
1 small ripe watermelon, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 small red onion, shaved paper-thin and held in ice water

For the shrimp:

  1. Put all of the ingredients except the shrimp in a medium stainless steel or enameled pot, bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the shrimp. Allow the shrimp to poach in the pickling liquid, uncovered, until they turn pink and begin to curl, about 15 minutes.

  2. Remove the shrimp and refrigerate. Pour the pickling liquid into a sterilized glass or stainless steel container and let cool to room temperature.

  3. Return the shrimp to the pickling liquid, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 days to cure. (Tightly covered, the shrimp will keep for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.)

For the vinaigrette:
Put the peppers, lime zest, lime juice, sugar, and salt in a blender and blend until smooth, about 5 minutes. With the blender running, slowly add the oils and blend to emulsify.

(The recipe makes more vinaigrette than you will need for this dish, but it will keep, tightly covered, for up to 5 days in the refrigerator. Whisk, or shake if stored in a jar, before using.)

To complete:
Put the lettuce in a large bowl and gently toss it with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat the leaves. Divide the lettuce, shrimp, and watermelon cubes among six salad bowls or plates. Garnish each with the sliced red onion.