Ham and Split Pea Soup
Hearty and smoky with just a hint of sweetness, this Ham and Split Pea Soup is the perfect meal for a chilly day.
Let’s be honest, split pea soup is not exactly appetizing to look at. But you know what they say: you can’t judge a book by its cover! And you definitely can’t judge a soup by its looks, either. My grandma always made this when I was a younger and I wouldn’t dare go near it, but many, many years ago I decided to make a pot of it for her after she came home from a stint in the hospital and that’s when I realized that Ham and Split Pea Soup is good stuff.
I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but this soup is thick, hearty, and full of flavor, and it’s one that I have made again and again during the cold winter months. A key component to the flavor is making your own stock from a ham and ham bone. Just like with my Cream of Mushroom Soup recipe, homemade stock adds a depth that you just can’t get with store-bought stock.
What You’ll Need
This is a classic split pea soup recipe made with unfussy ingredients. Here’s what you’ll need to pick up.
- Smoked, bone-in picnic ham – Since you’re making your own stock, you’ll need the bone!
- Bay leaves
- Split peas – Split peas come in yellow or green varieties, and your soup will take on the hue of whichever one you choose.
- Dried thyme – If you have fresh thyme on hand, that will work too; just use 2–3 times the amount.
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Unsalted butter
- Sugar – Sugar brings out the natural sweetness of the peas.
- New potatoes – Red potatoes or Yukon gold can be used instead.
- Ground black pepper
- Red onion – An optional garnish that adds a little crunch and bite to the soup.
- Balsamic vinegar – I recommend a high-quality, syrupy vinegar that can be swirled onto the surface of the soup.
What’s the difference between yellow and green split peas?
You can use either yellow or green split peas to make split pea soup; they have similar nutritional profiles and cooking times. Other than the color, the main difference between the two is the flavor. Yellow split peas are more earthy, leaning a bit more towards a red lentil, while green split peas taste more like, well, peas! They have a sweeter flavor.
How to Make Ham and Split Pea Soup
Slow simmering is key to good stock and good soup, which means you’re going to have to set aside some time for this recipe. Good things come to those who wait!
Make the ham stock. Place the ham, bay leaves, and water in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer the stock until the meat is tender and pulls away from the bone, 2 to 2½ hours.
Prep the ham for the soup. Remove the ham meat and bone from the stock and let it cool slightly until it’s safe to handle. Shred the meat into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Discard the rest of the ham.
Cook the split peas. Add the split peas and thyme to the pot with the ham stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, and simmer, uncovered, until the peas are tender but not mushy—about 45 minutes.
Sauté the mirepoix. While the peas are simmering, heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the onions, carrots, and celery and sauté, stirring frequently, until the liquid cooks off and the vegetables begin to brown. Lower the heat to medium-low and stir in the butter, garlic, and sugar. Continue to cook the vegetables, stirring frequently, until they’re deeply browned, 30 to 35 minutes. Set aside.
Finish the soup. Add the cooked vegetables, potatoes, and ham to the pot with the split peas and stock. Simmer the soup until the potatoes are tender and the peas dissolve and thicken to the consistency of light cream, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with ground black pepper, then remove the bay leaves.
Serve and garnish. Ladle the split pea soup into bowls and top with a swirl of balsamic vinegar and red onions.
Tips for Success
Here are some tips for making the perfect pot of Ham and Split Pea Soup:
- Troubleshooting your split peas. If your split peas aren’t getting tender while simmering in the stock, they could be a bit old. They will soften eventually, but you may need to add more liquid to the pot at some point if too much of it boils off.
- Don’t salt the stock. Related to this last point—if you salt the stock, it will keep your split peas from softening. Don’t add salt until the very end of the recipe!
- Make sure the potatoes are uniform in size. Otherwise, you’ll have some that are crunchy and some that are falling apart.
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
Ham and Split Pea Soup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 2 days. Heat the soup over low heat until it’s warm.
Can Split Pea Soup Be Frozen?
Yes, this soup freezes quite well! Ladle it into an airtight container or freezer bag and store it for up to 2 months in the freezer. For best results, let it thaw in the freezer overnight, then simmer it on the stovetop over low heat.
Ham and Split Pea Soup
- 2.5 pounds (1.13 kg) smoked, bone-in picnic ham
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 pound (453.59 g) split peas, rinsed and picked through, (2½ cups )
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium onions, chopped medium
- 2 medium carrots, chopped medium
- 2 medium stalks celery, chopped medium
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
- Pinch sugar
- 3 small new potatoes, scrubbed and cut into ½-inch dice (about ¾ cup)
- Ground black pepper
- Minced red onion, optional
- Balsamic vinegar
- 1. Place the ham, bay leaves, and 3 quarts water in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the meat is tender and pulls away from the bone, 2 to 2½ hours. Remove the ham meat and bone from the pot. When the ham is cool enough to handle, shred the meat into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Discard the rind, fat, and bone.
- 2. Add the split peas and thyme to the ham stock. Bring back to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, uncovered, until the peas are tender but not dissolved, about 45 minutes.
- 3. While the peas are simmering, heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add the onions, carrots, and celery and saute, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid evaporates and the vegetables begin to brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the butter, garlic, and sugar. Cook the vegetables, stirring frequently, until deeply browned, 30 to 35 minutes; set aside.
- 4. Add the sauteed vegetables, potatoes, and shredded ham to the pot with the split peas. Simmer until the potatoes are tender and peas dissolve and thicken to the consistency of light cream, about 20 minutes. Season with ground black pepper to taste. (The soup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 2 days. Warm the soup over low heat until hot.) Remove the bay leaves. Ladle the soup into bowls, sprinkle with red onion, if using, and serve, passing balsamic vinegar separately.