IF USING HAM HOCK: Heat 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil in a medium Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high.
IF USING BACON: Cook 8 oz. slab bacon, cut into ¼” pieces, in a medium Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-low, stirring occasionally, until bacon is crispy, 8–10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper towel–lined plate. Carefully pour out all but 2 Tbsp. fat from pot.
Add 1 small onion, finely chopped, ½ green bell pepper, finely chopped, and 1 celery stalk, finely chopped, to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add 1¼ cups dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight, drained, 1 Tbsp. Cajun seasoning, 2 tsp. dried thyme, 1 bay leaf, and 1 smoked ham hock (if using), then pour in 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water. Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce to low heat and cover pot. Simmer until peas are tender but not mushy, 1–1½ hours.
Drain pea mixture in a fine-mesh sieve; discard cooking liquid and bay leaf. Return pea mixture to pot, add ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper.
IF USING HAM HOCK: Remove ham hock from pot and let cool slightly. Pull meat from bone and return to pot; discard bone.
IF USING BACON: Return bacon to pot and stir to combine.
Taste and season with kosher salt. Divide cooked long-grain rice (such as Carolina) among bowls and top with a ladleful of peas. Scatter thinly sliced scallions over.
Editor’s note: This Hoppin’ John recipe was first printed in December 2021. Head this way for our favorite buttermilk cornbread, biscuits and gravy, fried green tomatoes, and more of our best Southern recipes →