Although the preparation of this soup is not difficult, a ham hock does need a long slow braise; it’s certainly a soup that’s worthy of being the main event, maybe not for a Saturday night, but for a good feed on a Sunday afternoon with a rustic loaf and a craft ale on the side.
It’s also one of those dishes that fills the house with old fashioned smells, the sort of smells that make you feel a little self-righteous, the sort that Mrs Beeton would approve of: coupled with the muted sounds of The Six Nations on in the background, it’s all very life affirming.
In the real world I serve the soup pureèd silky smooth and serve it surrounding a delicately constructed pile of the shredded ham, on top of which sits a shiny ‘blobule’ of English mustard cream. You could of course serve the soup as God intended by sidestepping the last stage of blending, or go for a half and half approach using a stick blender instead, just don’t be disappointed the soup isn’t the colour of Kermit, split peas will inevitably lose their vibrancy during cooking.
1 x ham hock
2 x small carrots, roughly chopped
1 x leek, roughly sliced
1 x average onion, chopped
3 x sticks of celery, chopped
2 x bay leaves
A few springs of parsley or thyme or both
6 black peppercorns
For the soup
350g green split peas (soak the peas in a bowl of cold water whilst the hock is doing its thing)
3 x thick rashers of smoky bacon or a 150g piece of pancetta
2 x small onions
1 x small clove of garlic
Cook the ham hock by placing the first 8 ingredients into a large stock pot and cover with enough cold water to completely submerge the hock. Bring to a boil over a medium heat; turn down to a gentle simmer and leave it to do its thing. Top up the water throughout the cooking time as and when it needs it. Don’t be concerned that you’re diluting the stock every time you top up the water level, the resulting stock will be reduced later to the required quantity and it’s only the water that evaporates!
Depending on the age and size of your hock, the cooking time could be anything between 2 and 4 hours. You will know when it’s ready: the meat will separate from the bones which you’ll be able to pull free without any resistance.
Remove the hock from the stock and strain the contents of the pan through a sieve into a suitably large ‘vessel’. For the soup you will need 2L of stock; pour it back into the stock pot and reduce it further by boiling, if necessary.
To make the soup, chop the onion and crush the garlic (rough and ready is just fine, the whole lot gets blitzed in the blender later).
Set a large saucepan over a gentle heat and add the whole bacon rashers or pancetta. Fry on a gentle heat to release the fat, without it taking on too much colour (the aim here is to render the fat from the bacon in which to fry the onion, the bacon itself only flavours the soup and gets discarded at a later stage).
Remove the bacon from the pot and set to one side.
Add the onion and garlic to the pot; keep the heat low and sweat them gently. Add a knob of butter or a splash of oil if the contents look like they need it.
Drain the peas from their soaking water and sling them in. Add the bacon back in and half the stock for now and bring to a gentle simmer. Check after about half an hour, the peas will start to look a little mushy, spoon out a couple and check they’re soft. Top the soup up with a little extra stock if it looks too thick and continue until you’re happy the peas are soft.
Meanwhile, separate the meat from the hock bones, using your fingers to pull the meat into chunks and shreds.
Remove the bacon from the soup and discard. Pour the soup into a food processor and blitz until smooth. Do this in two batches if necessary.
Taste the soup for seasoning (you might like to consider white pepper here rather than the default black) and add extra stock to achieve a consistency you like – I prefer something no thicker than pouring cream.