Split Pea soup is one of our favorites. It is one of those soups that is completely underrated and rarely made often enough. Sure, lots of people think split pea is kind of boring… but that is because they aren’t making it right. The split peas may be the body of the soup but it is smoked ham hocks that are the heart and soul. It’s the ham hock that really delivers the kind of depth of flavor that makes this soup something special. It’s what you smell when you walk in the kitchen. When it’s made right, it’s the chunks of smoked and slow cooked pork that are like little Christmas presents you sink your teeth into amongst the creamy split peas.
We usually make split pea soup after a meat smoking session when we have smoked up a big bone-in cut of pork. We use the bone and left over meat to enrich the soup. However, this time was a special occasion. Over the summer, we had the pleasure of purchasing a whole hog. In addition to turning 10+ pounds of pork belly into bacon, we had the opportunity to brine and smoke fresh ham hocks. Those delicious hocks became the centerpiece of this soup.
Part of the appeal of split pea soup is the simplicity. You just need a few ingredients – split peas, carrot, celery, onion – and a few hours. As a matter of fact, most of that time is hands off while the soup is simmering. What’s not to love?
Split Pea Soup
Adapted from the Joy of Cooking
1 smoked ham hock (if you don’t have your own on hand, you can often purchase them in the meat section of your supermarket)
4 cups of water
1/2 pound split peas (about 1 cup)
1 carrot, diced
2 small stalks of celery, diced
small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
In a large soup pot, combine the water, ham hock, and split peas. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer for about an hour. Stir in the rest of the vegetables and the bay leaf. Simmer, covered, until the ham hock and peas are tender, about another hour (if your liquid doesn’t cover the ham hock, turn it occasionally).
Once the hock is tender, remove it from the pot, remove the skin and bone and discard. Coarsely chop the meat and return it to the pot. Continue to simmer the soup until the desired consistency is reached. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
Remove and discard the bay leaf before serving. Serve hot with hot sauce and a side of crusty bread, as desired. Serves 4-6 as a hearty soup course.