Last year I wrote that ham hocks are only consumed in one of two ways in my house: either slowly roasted so that they have glassy crackling, or simmered so that their intense, smoky, porky essence can be collected in a broth.
This ham-hock broth is the distilled essence of eastern Canada, and the foundation of split-pea soup.
Once you have simmered the ham hock and collected the broth, here are some thoughts on making split-pea soup.
After extensive cooking the ham hock itself has very little flavour and seasoning, but it still makes for a good garnish.
I use yellow split-peas, because the green ones look like baby poo once they’re cooked.
Split-peas have very intense thickening power. In culinary school a classmate made split-pea soup for a project. Everyone had made a soup, and they were all lined up in front of the instructor for him to taste and evaluate. The teacher took a look at the split-pea soup, lifted it from the table and in one quick motion turned the bowl upside down and held it over his head. Nothing, not one drop, fell from the bowl, because the student had used way, way too many split-peas (and the soup had started to cool, which thickens it even further.) Just remember you’re making soup, not hummus. I use one cup of split-peas for every four cups of broth, and I still have to thin the soup with milk or cream just before serving.
Once the peas are well-cooked, purée the soup in an upright blender for at least a few minutes for a smooth texture. I think that a slightly silty mouthfeel is part of the character of split-pea soup, so I don’t usually strain or chinois after blending.
Split-peas have a great roasted nut flavour, especially when cooked in ham hock broth, to the extent that sometimes split-pea soup reminds me of peanut butter. In a good way. Crème fraîche does a good job of cutting through the nutty, tongue-smacking intensity of the peas.