Rustic but no plain Jane: One-skillet Chicken with Black-eyed Peas and Cherry Tomatoes

by Terry B on August 19, 2009

Fresh black-eyed peas, green beans and cherry tomatoes combine with wine, thyme and bacon to make this one-skillet meal complex, layered and delicious. Recipe below.


I love Mark Bittman dearly. And I’ve grown even fonder of him since he backed off his edict against canned beans. Sort of. Recently on his blog, he did 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
Serves 4

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
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

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.

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.

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.

Spoon vegetable mixture into a shallow serving bowl and arrange chicken drumsticks on top of it and serve.

Kitchen Notes

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.


{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Copper Sinks August 19, 2009 at 7:23 am

Well, i’m not sure where you’re from but i grew up in the south and when my grandmother wanted to make something simple but was in a hurry or not feeling well she’d just get chicken wings and rice and that was always delicious.

Jennifer Hess August 19, 2009 at 1:15 pm

Oh, this looks and sounds heavenly! I do love some black-eyed peas, and I’m jealous that you can get them fresh.

Rocquie August 19, 2009 at 2:55 pm

Sounds, and looks absolutely scrumptious! It makes me reminisce about the long ago days, when I would sit in the shade with my grandmother, shelling fresh blackeye peas from her garden.

Ronnie Ann August 19, 2009 at 4:01 pm

Oooh…I’m loving this, Terry. Looks so utterly down-home satisfying. Want some right now. Great reminder about the beans – I’ve had my heart broken by pole beans.

Laura August 19, 2009 at 5:57 pm

You know this is pathetic, but I’m not sure I’ve ever had a black eyed pea before! Now I’ll have to keep an eye out and give them a try…

Sean August 19, 2009 at 10:13 pm

This dish sounds great! Very rustic but flavorful using the chicken legs. Bookmarked and will let you know how it turns out!

Terry B August 20, 2009 at 3:09 am

Thanks for stopping by, Copper Sinks!

Jennifer Hess—Thanks! I find them in most of the supermarkets here in Chicago. Ask around—I’ll bet you can find some.

Rocquie—What a great story! Reminds me of my Aunt Veta shelling butter beans in her Mississippi kitchen.

Ronnie Ann—I have to admit, I only knew this because of one of the nice produce guys who unfortunately didn’t have Roma beans.

Laura—Time’s a wastin’—go find some! Flavorwise, they are kind of nutty, more like beans, I’d say, than peas—no sweetness to them. Just deliciousness.

Thanks, Sean! Please do report back.

Chip August 21, 2009 at 1:47 am

I do love all beans (though I’m not sure I’ve ever had etcetera beans). I find beans bring out something special in chicken when cooked together.

I usually do my black eye peas from dry. A word about the dry ones: rinse them two or three times after soaking and before cooking or they impart a “dirt” taste.

We do a smokey black eyed pea & collard soup at the cafe that’s incredible.

Terry, I could see gussying this one up by using chicken stock with the beans and sauteing boneless, skin-on breast separately with some version of that bistro chicken with lentils you did some time ago. Then slicing and mounting the chicken over a mess of the beans on a plate! Something Frank Stitt-like.

theungourmet August 21, 2009 at 5:37 am

This is one fresh, delicious looking dish! I have several bags of dried beans but I usually opt for canned too.

Mellen August 21, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Hi, Terry – It’s Steve. Made paneer the other day: boil milk, add vinegar, collect and drain curds. Worked like a charm. Wondering if there’s a reason not to flavor the milk before boiling — cumin, for instance, or ginger, garlic. Seems obvious, but I’ve never heard of it being done, so it might be obviously dumb to everyone but me. Hi to M!

Terry B August 21, 2009 at 2:34 pm

Chip—Great tip about rinsing dried black-eyed peas after soaking. Thanks! And if I ever find myself down Atlanta way, I am so stopping in at your cafe. I like how you think about food.

theungourmet—Thanks! It was also good as leftovers the next day. And I have to say, although we’re fans of canned beans for most uses, the fresh black-eyed peas not only tasted, well, fresher, but the had a sturdier texture too.

Hi, Steve! Slightly off topic, but what the heck? I think adding cumin or other flavorings to the milk ahead of time will help further infuse the paneer with flavor. And with the garlic in particular, cooking it like that will mellow its taste somewhat, a good thing for this dish, I think.

Chip August 21, 2009 at 10:52 pm

Thanks, Terry. We’d be honored to have you over!

Dude! Where’s this paneer recipe y’all are talking about? I could use that!

(I think I’ve exceded my limit of exclams!)

Mellen August 22, 2009 at 1:05 am

If I’m “Dude”‘ here’s the process, according to Julie Sahni.

8 cups milk – boil it.
Reduce heat and add:
4 tbsp lemon juice OR 3 tbsp cider vinegar w/equal water OR 1 c yogurt.
Stir gently. Curdifying begins in 10 to 30 seconds, depending on what you’ve added.
Keep stirring gently w/ slotted spoon. At some point, as with popcorn, you think, well… that’s probably done.
Collect the curds (they’re fragile), put them into a straining device (cheesecloth recommended by Julie; I used paper towels in a strainer, used coffee filters time before this.)
Rinse for 10 -30 seconds under cold running (not harshly, they’re fragile) water.
Let it drip for an hour or more. (My other goddess, Madhur Jaffrey, calls for an overnight drip. Go for it – I didn’t have time.)
Whatever you’re straining in, now press out as much moisture as you can.
At this point, I had swell, burly curds and skipped the bit about laying them somewhere flat and putting a heavy thing on them to press them into a brick. I just broke those curds into right-sized chunks, fried ’em up and they were good.
Let us know if you go there and it works. If you want thoughts on what to do when you’re all curdy, you probably already know sag paneer, etc. If the cumin-garlic-ginger-elsewhere-infused version works, I’ll post. Seems like a good idea.

Chip August 22, 2009 at 3:36 am

Thanks for the recipe, Mellen. My guess on the sequence of infusion is that when it’s made commercially, generic paneer is simply more versatile to the end user. Whereas, when making your own, you have license to suit your own needs. There’s nothing I know about those ingredients that should affect how your cheese sets up.

When I’ve done fried paneer, I “bhoonafy” it in ghee with my own garam and garlic-ginger paste. I like how it makes the yellowy outside layer with the pristine white inside.

Terry B August 22, 2009 at 4:04 am

Why am I feeling the comments section on this post has been hijacked? Just kidding, Mellen [or Steve] and Chip—this has been a fascinating aside.

Mellen August 22, 2009 at 4:46 am

Sorry. Hijack was just the word I was thinking when Steve took off on this tangent. To get back to black-eyed peas, they are a wondrous thing, as are all beans, and should be used as often as possible. I like to make a soup of them with lardons and celery and onion, personally.

Chip August 22, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Terry, I’m so sorry. I was beginning to have my attention on that and had actually decided I better just beg off this thread after that last post.

I guess it was sort of vicarious blogging! I really should start my own when I manage to find the time.

Terry B August 22, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Mellen [actual Mellen this time, in fact]—Not a problem at all. And that sounds like a delicious way to enjoy black-eyed peas! I could also see carrots thrown in to complete the celery/onion/carrot mirepoix trio.

Chip—You and Steve and actual Mellen are all such great and enthusiastic cooks that this digression was fun. Probably helpful to anyone who stumbles upon the paneer recipe too.

Ashley August 24, 2009 at 3:24 pm

What a beautiful and colorful dish! I need to get brave and use dried beans more often. This looks fabulous :)

Sean September 8, 2009 at 11:55 pm

As promised before, I made this dish tonight. It turned out great! Real hearty, comforting and lighter than I was expecting it to be. I’m sorry the picture doesn’t do it justice. I only have 1 window in my apartment and unfortunately, its quite a distance away from the kitchen.

Thanks again for the great recipe!

Terry B September 9, 2009 at 4:27 am

Thanks, Ashley! And for the record, this dish used fresh black-eyed peas, easier to cook with—or at least more predictable—than dried.

Sean— I’m so glad you liked it! And your take on it is quite nice. Here it is almost midnight and I’m wanting some chicken and black-eyed peas!

zac September 10, 2009 at 5:40 pm

have you tried the chicken from just bare? your professional opinion is valued.
If not that, then what do you think of the recipes on their site

So many blogs have these great chicken recipes, but I always wonder where the animals come from!

Terry B September 10, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Zac—Actually, this past winter Just Bare Chicken asked me to review some of their products. I roasted a whole chicken. It was delicious, and my conscience liked it too! Buying chickens at farmers markets is another way to be sure you’re getting birds that were humanely [and quite probably organically] raised.

zac September 10, 2009 at 6:39 pm

you are way ahead me then!
It certainly is getting on time for roasting the chickens!

Interior Design Ideas January 8, 2010 at 5:10 am

Ummm.. looks so yummy :) I am a great lover of any chicken dish, this pic fills my mouth with waters. My mom at times says that I’ll be a chicken in my next birth.. lol

JM January 4, 2013 at 6:57 pm

This was delicious. I made some modifications for ingredients based on what I had on hand. After sauteeing the onions, I added 16 oz of quartered white mushrooms. I also reduced the liquid dramatically because the broth and mushrooms produced a lot of liquid. Lastly, I swapped 1 head of broccoli for the beans and a large chunks of plum tomato because I didn’t have cherry. Thanks

Terry B January 4, 2013 at 9:13 pm

Glad you liked it, JM. And I love modifying recipes on the fly. I saw fresh black-eyed peas in the market on new year’s eve and thought about cooking some for good luck. Unfortunately, they didn’t go with the rest of the planned menu. But now I totally want some!

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