ham bone split pea soup

I had to put ham bone in the name of this split pea soup because that’s where most of its wonderful flavor comes from.

I’m still in a soup making kind of mood and will be until at least mid-Spring when I transition from soups made with root vegetables and beans to lighter versions made with Springs first offerings.

Every Thanksgiving I bake a ham and when dinner is over, and we’ve all had second and third helpings, I trim as much meat from the bone, to use later for sandwiches and omelets, then I wrap up the bone and any meat still clinging to it and store it in the freezer.  It’s sole purpose is to sit in the freezer and wait until I’m ready to make split pea soup.

Every time I open the freezer to take out frozen bread, or ice cream or butter it’s sitting there in my line of vision as if  to say “Are you ready yet?”.  Nope not yet.  I have to be in a certain kind of mood for split pea soup.  I have to be craving something smooth and peppery and hammy that can be scooped up with a spoon.   That ham bone can sit in my freezer for months waiting patiently as I open and close the freezer door grabbing any and everything but the ham bone.

Then one day just as it seems I’m reaching for the ice cream I’ll grab the ham bone.  Oh, happy day.   

 I don’t like a lot of stuff in my split pea soup.  I like a clean smooth soup, so I skip the onions and carrots and get all the flavor from the ham bone.   Taking time to roast the ham bone does wonders for enriching the flavor of the stock which transfers to the soup.  I also don’t like flecks of black pepper suspended in my soup, so rather than using a pepper grinder I opt for wrapping whole peppercorns in cheese cloth along with a few garlic cloves, bay leaf  and a fat  sliver of lemon peel.  

One reason why split pea soup has a permanent position in my soup repertoire is because it’s a few simple ingredients that add up to something that tastes fantastic and seems like more work was put into its making than actually was.   This is another soup that freezes and reheats well.  One thing about split pea soup is that it does tend to thicken as it sits.  If you’re like my husband you’ll be fine with this and just add spoonfuls of it to rice.  If you’d rather be slurping your soup just add water or chicken stock to loosen it up.  Be warned, though,  after doing this and then having it sit around it will tighten right back up again.   One solution for this-don’t let it sit around, just eat it!

recipe: ham bone split pea soup

note:if you don’t have a ham bone don’t worry.  I didn’t say you had to make this soup this instant.  Plan to have a baked ham for one Sunday dinner, after you have finished slice off any meat for cooking later and wrap up your ham bone. Store in the freezer until you are ready to make this soup.

One cooked ham bone (see note above)

10 whole peppercorns

1 bay leaf

3 cloves garlic, unpeeled

1 fat sliver of lemon peel. from fresh lemon, peeled with a peeler

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 bag ( 1 pound) green split peas, picked over and rinsed

olive oil for drizzling


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Place the unthawed ham bone on a rimmed baking sheet.  Roast the ham bone for about 35-40 minutes being careful not to burn.  Some charring in places is ok for a ,more smokey flavor but do not burn.

Place the roasted ham bone in a large soup pot and cover with cold water.  On medium high heat bring to a gentle boil, skimming off any foam that accumulates at the top.  

Place the peppercorns, bay leaf, garlic and lemon peel in cheesecloth and tie with cooking string. Drop into the pot and push down with spoon to submerge a bit (it will float back up).

 Turn the heat down to low and simmer gently for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  Skim off any foam that appears.

After 2 hours remove the ham bone and the cheesecloth with the aromatics.  Do not throw out the cheesecloth.  Put the ham bone aside.  You can eat any remaining meat or if you like save it to garnish your soup.

You can pour the stock through a strainer if there are any pieces of bone or meat in the stock or use a skimmer to remove.  Depending on the size of your pot you should have about 8 cups of stock.

If you strained the stock put it back in the pot along with the cheesecloth wrapped herbs. 

Add the peas to the pot and 2 teaspoons kosher salt

Bring the soup to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce to medium-low; simmer for about 1 1/2 hours until the peas have softened and broken up and the soup is thick.  Remove the cheesecloth with the herbs.  Taste the soup and add more salt if needed. 

Thin with more water or regular chicken stock .

Drizzle with olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice if you like.

Note: usually I don’t start a bean soup with hot stock but because I make the stock and cook the beans immediatly after in this instance I do. 


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