For literally centuries, the field pea has been a Southern staple. Whether you’re familiar with Purple Hull, Old Timer, Turkey Craw or Rattlesnake, field peas have long played the role of subsistence food for both people and livestock all over the globe. In fact, archaeologists have discovered domesticated seeds for field peas that date back more than 7000 years in what is now known as Turkey. In the past, field peas were a dish consigned mostly to the poor, but like polenta and bulgur, it has reemerged in the past several years and found new life on the contemporary Southern table.
Although fresh field peas are most commonly found in the summer time, that certainly doesn’t stop local chefs from hoarding, freezing and even drying these tasty little morsels to be included in dishes created whenever and wherever they wish. In fact, field peas have become so prolific lately, that one could find them almost anywhere … especially in The Crescent City.
Just recently opened in the Warehouse District, Galliano Restaurant is a more casual spot than its counterpart Restaurant Rebirth around the corner, but both feature the flavors of Southern Louisiana as interpreted by native son Chef Ricky Cheramie. Named after Galliano, Louisiana (the small town Cheramie hails from), this rustic restaurant offers dishes like Crab & Corn Calas, Catfish Creole and Crawfish Pasta Monica. But among all of the spicy sauces and seafood, you’ll discover, tucked away in the sides, a ham hock and field pea fricassee that Chef Cheramie serves with pickled quail eggs and Cajun rice. Naturally you’ll have to order an entree like fried, wild-caught Gulf shrimp or fried chicken to get the side, but undoubtedly this is a sacrifice your stomach would be more than willing to make.
While ham hocks and field peas are a more traditional Southern dish, another local chef Michael Gullota likes shaking things up a bit. Known for his culinary acumen when it comes creating Southeast Asian dishes with local ingredients, it should come as no surprise to find field peas on his menu at his brand new, downtown eatery Maypop (as well as his other restaurant MoPho in Mid-City, for that matter). For lunch at Maypop, why not try the wok-fried egg noodles with jumbo Gulf shrimp, tumeric curry and field pea salad or sink your fork into an entree of charred lamb in a coconut milk glaze, nuoc cham, a Harissa fried egg and puffed field peas. Don’t forget to sop up that sauce with plenty of roti, you may even want to ask for extra.
Specializing in foods from “the Mississippi Delta and Louisiana,” High Hat Cafe on Freret Street is another terrific spot to score some precious peas. Not only can you order a side of field peas, a delectable classic made by slow-simmering with bacon and onions (perfect with their crispy fried catfish by the way), they also offer a field pea salad. Tossed with red onion, red bell pepper, charred onions, sherry vinegar and olive oil, these little legumes are complimented by tangy, marinated crab claws, a dish that’s easily a meal in itself.
Over on the burgeoning Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard in Central City, New Orleans natives Adolfo Garcia, Jared Ralls and Ronald Copeland partnered to create Primitivo, an delightful restaurant founded just a little under two years ago. Focused on soul-satisfying foods created around the hearth, Primitivo features dishes like braised pork cheeks and smoked pork butt in carbonara, roasted chicken with vegetable hash and ember roasted shrimp with boudin rouge dirty rice and catfish aioli. While many of the dishes don’t fall under our $20 price range, they do offer a side that is not only affordable, it will make any field pea-lover swoon. Served in a glazed ceramic dish, their sumptuous side is loaded with field peas and dotted with chunks of potato, slab bacon, tomato and wilted greens. Now what’s more homelike than that?
*Article originally published in the March 2017 issue of Where Y’at Magazine
*Primitivo is closed