Pease porridge hot…

Are there any dishes more Canadian than split pea soup?

Certainly Canada isn’t the only place it can be found, but pea soup is definitely part of the fabric of Canadian, and especially Québécois, cuisine. I mean, the brand I grew up with was called Habitant! It’s a great dish for a region with a long, hard winter, because it relies on ingredients that store well: dried peas, carrots, onions and salted pork.

With the weather getting colder around here, I’ve been making more and more soups lately. (Unfortunately, it’s tough to make photos of soup look interesting.) When I realized how long it had been since I last made pea soup, it quickly rose to the top of my “to-cook” list.

I picked up a smoked ham hock and some dried peas and, working from a recipe in Jehane Benoit’s New and Complete Encyclopedia of Cooking, simmered them for a couple of hours with some carrots, onions and salted herbs. I also added a pinch of baking soda, which helps dried legumes break down while they’re cooking; I like my pea soup to have a thick, pureed consistency. I mixed the shredded meat back in (and then coaxed it into a little pile for the photo above), but you could arrange a pile in the middle of the bowl and pour the soup around it for a slightly more elegant presentation. I almost always grind a little black pepper over top, too.

How to make Canadian pea soup

1 Tbsp. rendered bacon fat (or butter or vegetable oil)
2 medium onions, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 smoked, cured pork hock (about 1 pound)
1 pound dried split yellow peas, rinsed and drained
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. salted herbs (or substitute a mix of fresh celery leaves, parsley and savory)
1/4 tsp. baking soda

Melt the bacon fat or butter, or heat the vegetable oil, in a large soup pot, and sweat the onions and carrot until softened but not browned. Add the ham hock, split peas, bay leaves, salted herbs, baking soda and 2 litres of water (or enough to cover the peas and mostly cover the ham hock), and stir. Bring to a boil, skim, then cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for two hours, flipping the ham hock and stirring the peas occasionally. When the meat and peas are tender, remove the bay leaves and ham hock. Shred the meat, discarding the bones and skin. Puree the soup, if desired, adjusting the texture with more water as needed. Return the shredded meat to the soup, taste and adjust seasoning, and serve with freshly ground black pepper.

How do you like your pea soup?

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16 Responses to “Pease porridge hot…”

  1. Mmmmmm … pea soup! Our’s was always made with green peas, was chunky, and Mom made sure that there were at least 3 chunks of ham in each spoonful. I also remember melting chunks of mozzarella in mine. Of course, making soup is time consuming, and you have to be around to stir it a bit, so we would also bake fresh bread that day.
    Mike assures me that his pea soup should be yellow.

  2. Interesting, Laura. For me, pea soup is always yellow, too. Did you use dried green peas, or fresh (or frozen, or canned) ones?

  3. I actually use “Habitant” as the generic name for yellow split pea soup. I live in France now where I have to make a special trip to an exotic foods shop in order to find yellow spilt peas. I can find green ones anywhere, but it’s not the same!

  4. I thought you were going to talk about the Newfie peas porridge! Such a tease….

  5. Both dried green and frozen. Fresh if I have time and inclination, but frozen is easier to come by. I remember having it after Christmas more than this time of year, so fresh were a little harder to come by. “Ham-bone soup” was always split pea for us, always after a holiday or visit with the Grandparents.

    Thanks for reminding me that I have hocks in the freezer, too. Now I have a craving.

  6. Phil: To this day, I use Habitant as the standard of flavour to which I try and cook all pea soups. Sorry to hear how hard it is to find yellow split peas! They keep well, so you should stock up next time you’re in North America.

    Frank: I’m not familiar with “Newfie peas porridge.” Do tell!

    Laura: I’ve never cooked dried green peas. Do they taste the same as the yellow ones?

  7. I don’t know if they taste the same; I’ve never cooked with the yellow ones. I’ve been assured that they are the same, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to try.

  8. I find it interesting that you’re using split yellow peas. According to the Quebecoise friend who told me about pea soup à la her family, pea soup in Quebec always uses whole yellow peas. Whole yellow peas are, in our experience, not so easy to find in most places. We’re lucky enough to have one New England-based supermarket chain in the area (an hour’s drive away) that usually has them this time of year, or we pick up some when we travel to Plattsburgh or Montreal. And we always make sure we get enough to send some to our friend!

  9. I’ve never heard that, Melissa, and a quick check of a few of my Canadian cookbooks shows that they simply say “dried peas,” with no indication of split or whole. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen whole dried peas. Do they still have the skins on them? It seems that would make for a less tasty soup.

  10. I wonder if Frank meant “Newfie peas pudding” which is an entirely different beast (my partner loves it, I cannot abide it). My recollections of pea soup from growing up on the ‘Rock involved salt-cured beef chunks, not ham. Which was FABULOUS. I still mean to try re-creating this myself. I know salt beef is occasionally available around here, I just have to get serious about picking some up. _Everything_ is better with salt beef. If I ever do try this, I’ll invite you over.

  11. Thanks, Andrew, that’d be great. I don’t think I’ve ever tried salt beef!

  12. Matt, in years past, Commerical Photographers put “Marbles” in the bowl for soup shots. This forced ingredients
    higher making for a better shot.

  13. I grew up in Montreal. To my knowledge, French Canadian pea soup (Like the Habitant brand – never add water!)is whole peas that have a thin skin – sort of like garbanzos (chick peas). The only place in the US I have been able to find whole yellow peas is in a Hispanic grocery store under the “Goya” label. I think that the taste is different.

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