Pea soup is winter in French-speaking Canada. The pot is always on the stove and the more you reheat this soup, the better it tastes. It keeps the freezing cold at bay, is very economical to make, is filling and plain and simply put…it’s good. French Canadian pea soup is always made with yellow split peas, never the green ones. You cook them the same way and maybe they taste different, I don’t know. But this tastes like Montreal to me. We lived in Montreal for 9 months when we were newly married and this soup is part of the memory for me. It’s available everywhere and it’s always good. It can be made with or without meat, so it’s versatile, too. It is usually flavored with dried savory leaves and a neighbor told me she always added a bit of ground allspice. Now, I love allspice, so that wasn’t hard for me to incorporate into the soup, but use it or not, the soup will still be wonderful.
Québécois-Style Pea Soup (Soup aux Pois)
- 1 lb smoked ham hock
- 4 whole allspice berries or 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 3 whole cloves or a large pinch ground cloves
- Water to cover
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 ribs celery, diced
- 1 onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 3/4 cups dried yellow split peas
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried savory or dried thyme
- Large pinch of ground allspice
- 2-3 teaspoons maple syrup
- 2-3 teaspoons cider vinegar
- Additional water may be needed to thin the soup
In a medium sauce pan, add the ham hock, spices and water to cover. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the ham hock is falling apart. Remove the ham hock; set aside until cool enough to handle. Remove the meat and dice it; discard the fat and bones.
Strain the broth, discard the spices and skim as much fat as possible. If you do this the day before, refrigerate the strained stock and you’ll be able to just pull the fat right off the top.
For the soup, in large Dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat; cook carrots, celery, onion and garlic, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden, about 15 minutes. Stir in split peas and bay leaves; cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
Add water to the reserved broth to make 6 cups; pour into the Dutch oven and bring to boil. Reduce the heat, partially cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until peas are very soft and soup is thickened, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Add the black pepper, savory and ground allspice during the last 10 minutes of cooking.
Discard the bay leaves. Stir in the maple syrup, vinegar and diced smoked pork into the soup; thin with additional water/broth, if needed. Heat through and taste to correct the seasoning. Serve with good bread and butter, and a glass of sparkling cider or a good lager.
Québécois-Style Pea Soup Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2015. All rights reserved.
Pea soup will thicken as it sits. When you are reheating it, take this into account and thin with additional water or stock, if you wish. Some people cook the ham hock, peas and everything together, but I find it’s more difficult to remove the meat. Using the skimmed, strained broth, which is loaded with flavor, allows me to remove as much of the fat as I want, though I’m sure Québécois women don’t do that, fat equals more flavor and more staying-power against the frigid cold. And there’s a storm on its way, so we’ll probably all need staying-power.
Though not in the least authentic, I decided that a good drizzle of balsamic vinegar would compliment the soup nicely. It did. Having said that, really, is there anything that balsamic doesn’t improve? It should be a food group unto itself.
Many soups are peasant food. I love peasant food. It is usually substantial, always flavorful, there’s a history about it and it pays tribute to those that were given less to work with and made the most of what they were given. That’s a good thing for all of us to think about and remember.