This was one of my Mum’s staple recipes that took me a good bit of time to grow into. As a child, the response “pea soup” to the unending “what’s for dinner?” question was sure to yield a groan of horror and dismay (along with the response “lentil soup”, which I considered to be a punishment worse than death). I don’t know when exactly the response changed from a hard pass to a hell yes, but all I know now is that this soup is a stick-to-your-ribs, cold day delight of a meal that I will always welcome a Tupperware of. And yes, it is certainly a meal. This recipe is nobody’s side dish – unless maybe you’re at one of those medieval feasts where everyone is gnawing on turkey legs and engaging in some kind of pre-battle gluttony, the likes of which are no longer performed by modern-day society. The addition of bacon fat-fried croutons was probably largely unnecessary from a richness perspective, but a welcome addition texture-wise (dat crunch!).
Leanne’s Split-Pea Soup w/ Bacon Fat Croutons
Adapted from Leanne Quirk
Serves at least 10-12
4 large celery stalks, halved lengthwise (or even quartered if huge) and chopped into ½-inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 cups dried green split-peas
1 large smoked ham hock (have your butcher split it in half)
1 L chicken stock + more to thin, if needed
2 tbsp kosher salt, divided
3 bay leaves
6 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped into ½-inch pieces
3-4 slices thick-cut rustic bread (e.g. sourdough or country), crusts removed, cut into crouton-sized cubes
Place the celery, onion, peas, ham hock, 1 L chicken stock, 1 tbsp salt, and bay leaves in a large stockpot and add 8 cups water. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover partially with the lid of the pot. Cook at a gentle simmer for ~3 hours, until the soup is thick and green, and the ham hock is falling apart and easy to shred with just a fork. The peas should have completely disintegrated by now, giving the soup a starchy creaminess.
Carefully remove the ham hock from the soup. Discard the bone and any nasty skin, sinew, or hunks of fat. Shred the meat into large bite-sized chunks using 2 forks. You can now either leave the soup as it is (a bit chunky, but very soft) or puree it to a smoother consistency using an immersion or regular blender. I tend to like the chunkiness of the soup, but some may prefer it to be more uniform in texture. If you are a person with time on your hands and indecision in your heart, perhaps you would like to puree half the soup to make a smoother soup that still has a bit of texture left in it. Whatever way you opt for, go ahead and add the shredded ham hock back into the soup (post-blending, if you opted for that choice). Add the remaining 1 tbsp salt into the soup, then stir and taste to decide if it needs any more (it might!). A generous grind of black pepper would also be lovely to stir in. If you find that the soup is thicker than you prefer, thin it out with extra chicken stock to your desired consistency. If you plan on keeping some soup for leftovers (which you certainly will if you are not feeding a literal army), you will likely need extra stock as it becomes unbelievably thick after a stint in the fridge. Like, we’re talking DQ Blizzard thick.
Keep the soup warm while you make the bacon and croutons. Place the chopped bacon in a large pan set over medium heat. Fry until rendered and crispy, ~8 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to scoop out the bacon, leaving as much fat in the pan as possible. Set the drained bacon on a paper towel-lined plate. Transfer the cubed bread to the pan, tossing to coat each piece with a slick of bacon fat. Fry the bread, flipping frequently, until the cubes are golden-brown on all sides. Set the croutons on another paper towel-lined plate.
To serve, ladle a generous portion of soup into each bowl. Top with croutons and a sprinkling of bacon. Garnish with extra black pepper if desired. Feel yourself radiate soupy warmth from the inside out.