This soup was a happy accident.
Normally, I make split pea soup the way a lot of folks do: I simmer split peas in water with garlic, a handful of diced carrots and onions, and, of course, a ham hock. The ham hock gives the soup its signature smokey saltiness and deep flavor.
Now, when we got to the butcher, there wasn’t a ham hock to be found. They did, however, have a few lovely packages of fresh pork bones.
OK, I thought, these will do. I’ll brown the bones, then simmer them into a flavorful stock, and use that as the base for my soup.
The result? A wonderfully complex soup that gets a triple dose of piggy goodness from velvety pork stock, crisp fried bacon, and a handful of diced ham. It’s rich and meaty—with a subtle smokiness.
It was more work, but it was definitely worth it.
Split Pea Soup with Homemade Pork Stock: A note on salt
There are a few points in this recipe that call for a sprinkle or two of salt, to taste. If you’re unsure of how much to add, go light, keeping in mind that you’re going to add ham and bacon later on. You can always reseason the soup at the end if it needs more salt.
Split Pea Soup with Homemade Pork Stock
For the pork stock
1 Tbls. olive oil
2 lbs pork bones
10 cups water
3 fresh bay leaves
3 celery stalks, halved
1 onion, halved
1 head garlic, halved
1 bunch parsley stems
For the split pea soup
2 rashers bacon, diced
10 baby carrots, diced
1 shallot, minced
5 cups pork stock
1/2 lb. of split peas
1 tsp. garlic powder
black pepper to taste
1 cup diced ham
Split Pea Soup with Homemade Pork Stock: Make the pork stock
Start with fresh (i.e. not smoked), meaty pork bones. Depending on your butcher, these might be labeled “Pork Neck Bones.”
Cook them until they’re brown and crisp on the bottom. Flip them over when they look about like this:
Continue turning the bones until they’re developed a handsome brown crust on all sides.
When the bones are brown all over, turn your heat down to low. After a minute or two, add the water. (Be careful of the steam.)
When you’ve added all the water, scrape at the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to loosen any brown bits. The water should start to take on a rich brown color, like this:
Raise the heat to high and bring the water to a boil. As the bones boil, they’ll release impurities and a foamy, opaque scum will rise to the surface of the water. It should look about like this:
Skim that off with a spoon and discard it.
Keep boiling and skimming for maybe 10 minutes or so, until no (or almost no) scum remains.
Toss in the bay leaves, onion, celery, garlic, and parsley stems. Give a stir to combine.
Cover the pot tightly. Turn the heat down low enough to maintain a good simmer without your pot boiling over. Let it bubble for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
After 1 1/2 hours, it should look about like this:
With tongs, remove all the bones and large veggie pieces. Discard them. Don’t fret about tossing this stuff. You’ve most likely cooked all the flavor and goodness out of the meat, so it’s done its job.
(If you’re not sure about this, taste the meat. If you still think it’s OK, reserve the bones, pick them clean, and add that meat back to the soup at the end.)
Once you’ve pulled out all the large pieces, your stock should look about like this:
Next, strain the stock quickly to remove any smaller debris. Set a strainer over a large bowl, and pour the stock through the strainer into the bowl. Set the bowl of stock aside for a few minutes.
Wipe out your stock pot with a few paper towels (or wash it quickly if it’s really mucky). Set it back on the stove over medium-high heat.
Add the diced bacon to the pot and fry, stirring occasionally, til brown and slightly crisp.
You want the bacon to be slightly crisp (not completely dark and brittle) like this:
If you have what looks like an excessive amount of bacon fat to you, drain some of it off. Toss in the shallot and carrot. Stir to coat with bacon fat.
Add 5 cups of the stock.
Toss in the split peas and give the soup a stir to combine everything.
Raise the heat to high and bring the soup up to a boil. When it’s boiling, lower the heat so the soup is just simmering, and cover it. Simmer covered, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour.
After about an hour, the split peas should have all but broken down. Your soup should be pea green, and fairly thick.
Add the diced ham and give it a stir to combine.
Simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Ladle out into bowls and serve piping hot with hunks of crusty garlic bread. Enjoy!
Split Pea Soup with Homemade Pork Stock: A note on leftovers
This soup tends to thicken up considerably in the fridge. If you like, thin it out with a little leftover pork stock, water, or low-sodium chicken broth.