Sunday, 1 September 2013

Recipe: Pea and Ham Hock Soup

I love Autumn. It's my favourite of the seasons: knitwear, boots, colourful trees, fireworks, and the promise of Christmas when it turns really cold. What's not to like? Mostly though, it signifies the start of Proper Food. I'm not a salad girl (I like my carbohydrates) and I love a comforting hot lunch on a blustery day.

This soup is a perfect autumn comforter. Ham hocks (or houghs) are incredibly cheap, mostly because they are time-consuming to cook. They've fallen out of fashion because of their association with poverty food, but like so many cheap cuts of meat, they're full of flavour. Mine was under £1.50 for an outdoor reared one (I'd strongly suggest getting a British outdoor reared, free range or organic one if you can - partly because of welfare standards, but partly because you really do want something with a high meat content for this recipe). I've adapted this recipe from half a dozen variations. If you can't be bothered faffing with the hock to make stock, then you could miss out that step, and use good quality liquid ham stock and rashers of bacon or diced gammon. If you have a slow cooker though, it's especially worth the effort, as it would quite happily bubble away overnight.
Pea and Ham Hock Soup

For the stock:
1 smoked ham hock
2 carrots
1 large onion
2 bay leaves
10 peppercorns
a bouquet garni (if you have any handy)

For the soup:
10g butter
1 diced clove garlic
1 finely chopped large onion
2 diced carrots
400g dried split peas
1 litre fresh ham stock
175g ham, finely diced 

To make the stock:
Soak the hock for about 12 hours, or overnight in cold water, changing the water a couple of times if you can. This will help to draw out some of the saltiness from the smoking. 
Roughly chop the onion and two carrots, and add to a large pan.
Add in the ham hock, bay leaves, peppercorns and bouquet garni and cover with fresh cold water, about 2.5 litres.
Bring to the boil, skim off any froth, and then simmer for an hour. Make sure that the hock stays covered, adding more water if needed (if you have a slow cooker, this would be great to do overnight).
Drain, reserving the liquid. Cool at room temperature until it stops steaming, then refrigerate for 2-3 hours (or overnight).
Allow the ham hock to cool to holdable temperature, before picking off the meat and setting aside. Discard as much fat as you can, along with the skin.
When the stock is cold, skim off the fat and strain before use.

To make the soup:
Rinse the split peas (check that the packet doesn't require overnight soaking - mine didn't but some apparently do).
In a large pan, melt the butter, and fry the onion, carrots and garlic. 
Mix in the split peas, and cover with stock. 
Bring to the boil, and simmer for an hour until the peas are soft and starting to break up. You may need to add a bit more hot water to keep the peas just covered.
Take off the heat and allow to cool before blending until smooth. You will need to add more water as you continue to blend - it's a matter of preference how thick you want the soup, but add the water slowly, blending to mix it in before adding more.
Mix in 125g of the ham to the soup and bring back to the heat.
Serve with a sprinkling of the remaining meat, freshly ground pepper, and crusty bread and butter.


  1. I find it really hard to get hold of ham hock so have not made a pea and ham soup and I REALLY want to. It screams of autumn and scarves and brown leaves and a crisp wind...

    1. Soo autumnal! I'm really looking forward to my lunch!
      I've got them from my (admittedly great) local butcher, but I've also seen them in Waitrose - both do orders in advance so might be worth asking there? If they come in a two-pack then they freeze really well in an airtight container. I have a hunch that they're the kind of thing a lot of places don't stock anymore because they're so unfashionable which is a real shame.