Place the peas, onion, chiles or cayenne, and hocks or bacon in a large heavy pot and add 8 cups water. Bring to a boil and skim off and discard any foam. Boil gently, uncovered, for 1 to 1½ hours, until the peas are very tender but not mushy. Check occasionally to ensure that there is enough water and that the peas are not sticking; add more hot water if necessary. When the peas are done, taste for salt and add if you wish.
Transfer half the peas and liquid and one pork hock (if using) to a large heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and set the remaining peas aside. Add the rice to the saucepan and if necessary add a little water so the rice is covered by
Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking or burning, then cover and lower the heat to medium-low. Cook for 20 minutes, without lifting the lid, or until the rice is tender, with dry and separate grains. Let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.
Slice the meat from the hocks or slice the Canadian bacon. Heat the remaining peas. Transfer the Hoppin’ John to a serving bowl and serve with the extra peas in another serving dish, topped with the sliced hock meat or bacon.
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