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Chef's Corner: Split Pea Soup

Updated: Jan 29

Split pea soup comes in many incarnations. This one, which found its distant origins in The New York Times Cookbookby Craig Claiborne, is one of our all time favorite soups. Long before the Instant Pot, we found that piling most of the ingredients into a pressure cooker was, quick, easy and efficient. We don't bother sautéing anything (in fact when we tried we thought it wasn't as good). This one made particularly good use of a wonderful, large meaty ham hock from Alexander's Fine Meats.

As the cold nights of winter are upon us, this is a hearty full meal soup.

This can serve anywhere from 2 or 4 to 8 or more people depending on usage (we have it as our main course), appetites, and the rather random size of ingredients for which following the given quantities exactly is not at all necessary.  Feel free to improvise! Leftovers freeze well.


Split Pea Soup

In the pressure cooker

  • 1 pound dried green split peas rinsed and picked over to remove anything foreign

  • 1 1/2 quarts water

  • 1 large leek (or the equivalent; whites and some greens), cleaned of any dirt and grit, roughly chopped

  • 2 stalks celery, roughly chopped

  • 2 very large carrots* (or the equivalent), roughly chopped

  • 1 very large onion (or the equivalent), peeled and roughly chopped

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 1 small parmesan rind (optional)

  • 1 tsp. Better for Bouillon Seasoned Vegetable Base**

  • 1 large meaty piece smoked ham hock***

After pureeing

  • 3 canned chipotle chiles, minced, plus some of the adobo sauce (more or less to taste)

  • 1 TB olive oil (optional; the fat accentuates the flavor of the soup)

  • 1 TB (more or less to taste) gochujang

  • 2 tsp. white wine vinegar

  • 1 TB Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 TB A1 Sauce

  • Salt or preferably additional Seasoned Vegetable Base, to taste**

  • 1/2 to 1 tsp. dried thyme, more or less (do it to taste)

  • 1/2 to 1 tsp. cayenne pepper, more or less (optional or do it to taste)

For serving

  • Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated

  • Croutons

  • Chopped Italian parsley

  • Sherry

  • Sourdough bread on the side

*Carrots lend a distinct sweetness to the soup. Use more or less depending on your taste.

**Better for Bouillon Seasoned Vegetable Base adds umami, flavor, and salt to the dish. If you aren't using it, salt the soup to taste

***Ham hocks come in different sizes. We have the butcher cut them into 2 or 3 pieces if they are quite large. They freeze well, properly wrapped.

Assemble all the pressure cooker ingredients in the pot. Put split peas on top (as the peas might otherwise burn). Cook with high pressure for 20 minutes. You can use quick release or just let it all cool until  the lid can be removed.  Our cooking time takes into account the ham hock. Cooking times for peas can be affected by the brand of cooker and the age of the peas. You can, of course,  cook the entire dish on the stove top; it will just take longer. Cook until the peas are done and the ham hock is cooked through. It doesn't matter if the peas are mushy (in fact, it might even be preferred) as they will be pureed. If cooking on the stove top, pre-soaking the peas overnight can speed up the process somewhat.

Fish out the parmesan rind and bay leaf and discard. Remove the ham hock and set aside to cool. Remove the meat from the bone (discard the bone and any fat). Shred the meat or chop into small pieces, according to your taste. Set aside.

In batches, puree the  pea mixture, transferring to a very large pot. Depending on the size/amount of the vegetables the puree could be quite thick.  Add water, if needed, to obtain the consistency you desire (we like it relatively thick).

Add the "after pureeing" ingredients, tasting as you go along to get it the way you like it. Add in the chopped or shredded ham hock meat. Bring to a boil then simmer for at least 15 minutes to blend the flavors. If the soup is not as thick as you like, simmer until it reaches the desired consistency.

Many soups and stews taste even better a day later. We chill our soup in a larger pot of ice water and refrigerate it. It will get a lot thicker and will need more water when reheating.

TIP: If we are adding water to thin out the soup, we like to put the chipotle chiles and water in the blender jar to puree it as well as get all the remaining thick pea mixture out of the jar.

TIP: Croutons are nice and we like a few even though we are also eating sourdough with our soup. Since one doesn't need a lot, we just take a random piece of bread (sourdough is great), trim the crust, cut into cubes then sauté in a little oil or butter until lightly browned.

TIP: Parmesan rinds are a great addition to soups and stews. We always save them. They freeze well.

In our most recent version (image at the top of this post) we have garnished with croutons, chopped parsley and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. We then pour a little sherry along the edge for the diner to incorporate as they like. Or, as below, just go with cheese, parsley and sherry. Soup is a wonderful palette.

WINE SUGGESTION: We usually choose a cabernet sauvignon.

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