Monday, May 26, 2008

Split Pea Soup with Smoked Ham Hocks

I love soup and I love pork so this is a no-brainer recipe. It's also ridiculously easy. Chop stuff, shovel it into a pot and let it cook. It's not much more complicated than that. For those of you who don't know what a ham hock is, a hock is the lower part of a pig's hind legs. Think above the foot but below the lower end of the meaty part. So a ham hock is that cut of meat which has also been smoked. It's a pretty tough piece of meat filled with gristle, bone, connective tissue and some meat so you would never want to quick cook ham hocks. They need a nice, long stewing to transform the meat into something palatable. Beans and ham hocks are classic as are ham hocks and greens. In the south, they commonly throw in a smoked ham hock when they're cooking collards and things like that. In that same vein, I also like ham hocks with braised cabbage.

This is my recipe and, as I mentioned before, it's pretty basic. There are lots of ways to jazz it up so get creative!


3 cups of green split peas picked over, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 stick of unsalted butter
2 carrots peeled and cut into 1/4 inch thick coins
2 onions peeled and cut into a large dice
2 stalks of celery cut into half inch pieces
2 cloves of peeled garlic, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper (optional; it doesn't add much heat but a nice roundness of flavor)
12 cups of water
3 pounds of ham hocks (I have the butcher cut them lengthwise)

Heat the oil and butter until the butter melts. Add the carrots, onions, celery and garlic to the pot. Season with a teaspoon of salt and a few generous grinds of pepper. Cook over medium heat until the onions are translucent and soft. Add the drained split peas and cayenne pepper. Stir well and cook for a few minutes. Add the water and ham hocks. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat until the soup is just simmering. Make sure you stir the soup every now and then so the peas don't stick and burn.

After about .45-1 hour of cooking, I usually remove the hocks and place them into a bowl. Leave the peas in the pot to continue cooking. I like the meat to have a bit of texture so I try not to cook it to the point of being completely soft. When cool enough to handle, I peel the skin off the hocks and discard. I then remove the meat and break it up into bite size pieces. Set aside. I usually freeze the leftover ham hock bones because there's still quite a bit of flavor in them.

After around 1.5 hours, the veggies and peas should be completely soft. I turn the heat off and wait for 15 minutes. I then blend the soup with an immersion blender or with a regular blender. Use some care as the soup will still be very warm. Taste the soup for seasoning. Undersalting isn't a bad idea because the ham hocks will add a nice hit of saltiness. When the soup is blended, stir in the ham hock meat and you're done!

Feel free to have fun with the seasoning. Maybe go Indian? I mean, I make Indian lentils all the time and lentils aren't too far from split green peas so I think it would be delicious.

As for garnishes: croutons, freshly minced herbs, olive oil, pumpkin seed oil, tangy yogurt, sauteed carrots, onion or celery, shucked, blanched green peas...ummm, this is right off the top of my head. I'm sure you can think of a few for yourselves!

Time- About 10 minutes of prep, 1.5 hours of cooking...most of it unattended, passive cooking.

Food Cost-
Peas- $1.35
Veggies- $1.50
Ham Hocks- $12.00 (Somewhat expensive, I know...gotta hate the upscale butcher's prices)
Total-$14.85...18 cups of soup. Say, 2 cups per serving? $1.65 per serving


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