Split-Pea Soup – Soupe au Pois

Yellow split-peasLast 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.

Split-pea soup with ham hock and crème fraîche

Peameal Bacon

Slices of homemade peameal baconIt’s always confused me that Americans call back bacon “Canadian bacon,” when it’s much more associated with Britain than Canada.  To my knowledge the only uniquely Canadian form of bacon is peameal bacon: cured pork loin rolled in ground split peas, which keeps the surface of the meat dry and inhibits microbial growth.  Sometime over the past century cornmeal has taken the place of peameal, but the name hasn’t changed.

This week I made two forms of peameal bacon: the contemporary favourite – lean, centre-cut pork loin, fat trimmed down, brined and rolled in cornmeal – and a rustic recontruction, inspired by the fantastic book The Art of Living According to Joe Beef.   I left an inch or two of fatty side meat on the loin, and after curing, rolled the meat in coarsely crushed yellow split peas.

In the end, the crushed split-peas were too coarse, making for a tooth-snapping bite.  The cornmeal had a better texture, but once the bacon had hung out in the fridge for a few days, the cornmeal absorbed moisture and lost its crispiness.

Use as you would back bacon.  Makes great sandwiches and bennies.  Below is a toasted English muffin, aged cheddar, peameal bacon, maple mustard, and poached egg:

Eggs St. Lawrence: English muffin, cheddar, peameal bacon, poached eggs, brown beans.