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Proper Pea Soup

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Probably the best soup in the world, provided you get the key ingredient - a smoked ham bone.

For a good peasoup, three things are needed - the peas, the ham and myself. Everything else is colored bubbles. If you can't get proper ham or a piece of barbecued pig, you might as well cook another soup as it's never going to be anywhere near good as this. It took me 2 solid month of searching and haggling until I could locate a man who would part with his ham bone. I've been offered all sorts of industrial pig-concentration-camp sorts of hams, until finally I found this extraordinary local ham. They call it a jambon de la borne, or hook ham, as it is hooked up in the huge cheese chalet chimney where people make cheese on wooden fires up there in the Alps. The ham is left until almost black with soot, and it is the most delicious smoked ham I've ever had. With such a ham all you would need really is the bone, but I could not resist leaving a little flesh right where the pig's shins dip into the shit. A unique taste, really.

Peasoup is one of two dishes I've ever seen my old man cook, but boy was it good. It cooks for 24 hours or until the ham disappears into the soup, he used to say. Well, you don't need to cook it that long.

500gr / 1lbs yellow peas
Unbroken ham bone with some meat on it
4 carrots
10 waxy potatoes
1 celeriac
1 leek
3 garlic cloves
2 onions
2 bay leaves
2 cloves
Herbs : parsley, sage, thyme, oregano, celery leaves and savory.

Clockwise from the bottom left : oregano, parsley, sage (in the backü) and my favorite, herbe à maggi or âche or lap', a wild cousin of celery.

Soak the peas in water for at least 90 minutes or overnight. I recommend changing the water regularly as it seems to reduce their use as a chemical weapon.

Some of the sugars at the source of flatulence are dissolved in the soaking water - make sure you discard that water.

Peel, wash and chop the carrots...

... celeriac ...

... and proceed likewise with the potatoes.

Peel the onions and nail the bay leaves on one onion using the cloves. Finely dice the other onion. Finely chop the leek as well.

Crush the garlic. Whenever my father walks into the kitchen, if he sees something cooking that has garlic in it, he'll go Please double the amount of garlic. If you answer But Dad, I already did he'll just reply Well, then boy, just double it again. In other words, the amount of garlic you need to use very much depends on your tastes. Please consider that boiled crushed garlic is way more pungent than sliced or fried garlic.

In a large cast iron pot fry the onions and leeks in a little oil until soft.

Add the diced vegetables ...

... and toss.

Cover with water.

Wash the soaked peas one last time, drain and ...

... pour into the soup.

Stop for a minute to lean over the pot consider the beautiful color and texture of your pea mound.

Add the onion and ham. You may have to break the ham at the knee joint to make it fit into your pot. Just make sure not to break any bone as the marrow could be rancid and impart a foul taste to your soup. Take a reasonable amount of herbs and tie them by their twigs with a kitchen string which you'll attach to the pot's handle for convenient removal later on.

Add some more water until everything is swimming. Leave on a medium fire so that the soup takes a really long time before it boils. This is necessary to help skim off the protein coming off the ham. When all skim is gone, bring to a boil and then turn the heat to the lowest setting and simmer for at least 2 hours but as long as 24 hours. If you go for a long boil you could place this in an oven at 80 C° and program it to stop in a couple hours.

Fish out the herbs an onion...

... then the shinbone ...

... and finally the femur.

Set the onion aside as well as the femur if there is any meat on it.

I'm told children love peasoup - I certainly did back in the days, but not with such large chunks floating in the water.

Use a plunging mixer to turn your soup into proper peasoup.

I would not recommend adding much salt if you boil meat in the soup as there is much more salt than meets the eye in most preserved meats. Just check the seasoning and correct with salt and pepper before giving the soup a final mixing. Chop some more fresh herbs and mix them in.

That's it. The ground peas have soaked up all of the remaining liquid and all that's left to see is a honey-colored brew fit for the gods. Have a taste - amazing, isn't it? The delicate smokey and porky aftertaste imparted by our ham mixed with the garlic and herbs. Have another taste. You start wondering if this might not be the best soup in the world.

You can either slice the ham ...

... and serve it in the soup.

Or dice the ham and mix with the soup.

Here is a bunch of wildflowers I gathered in my garden to help you remember how earthly pleasures are transient.

Hurry, my friend, before it is too late!

Carpe ius leguminum, as the ancient wisdom goes.



  • #1
  • Comment by clayton
Much as my french-canadian grandmother used to make! Very much the best soup one can have... thanks FX.
Oh wow. That looks delicious.

I know you said you haven't been trained as a cook, so are you following recipes, or are you just naturally abled? I ask because it seems you could open your own restaurant and no doubt be very successful!
  • #3
  • Comment by JD
my mother makes this every year from our thanksgiving and christmas ham. She got it from her grandmother who was from Poland. I've never been a fan of pea soup but I might try some this year.
I love pea soup, and this looks like a much enhanced version of the one we make.  Hard to find a ham like that, but I am thinking it might be worth the effort.
  • #5
  • Comment by Alys
A fine Swiss dish.  :-)

My Canadian version uses a smoked pork hock when ham is not available and no potatoes or celeriac.

  • #6
  • Comment by Kate
Ahhhhh, lovely!  The recipe is almost the way it's "traditionally" made in the Canadian Maritimes, though you'd more often see pickled or salted pork hocks used in place of a ham bone and turnip instead of celeriac.  

Split Pea Soup was something my dad taught my mother to make and then she taught me. Definitely one of my favorite comfort foods. Yours looks really, really good and makes we want some now even though it's 85F degrees out today!
  • #8
  • Comment by Martin
FYI, the "herbe à maggi" is lovage, which a friend describes as "celery on steroids". It's hard to find in stores (in North America, anyway) but is easy to grow and quite a handsome, architectural plant. Celery leaves make an OK, if rather wimpy, substitute.
  • #9
  • Comment by andreas
I would like to point out that this dish is served every at all lunch-restaurants every thursday alongside with pancakes all year around here in Sweden.
Do i need to say that this is a very popular dish here?

Good job.
  • #10
  • Comment by Agnieszka
Hi, I have found your blog quite recently and loved it. Pea soup is what my husband loves most when it comes to soups. It is a very popular dish here in Poland and best is either when you cook it at home or get at some road-side "restaurants" where it is usually poured out of big pots, with lots of good bread and dripping. And I love its vegetarian variant as well, described in one of my Jewish cooking books. Thanks for your great work!
  • #11
  • Comment by Beatrice
Hi Francois,

Nice recipe, but as you say it's hard to find good pork.  In the stone farmhouse we almost bought above Bolzano, one room had been devoted to hanging the hams for about a century--it was black with soot and really stank.  There was no loo in the house, but there was the smoking room! I believe the soaking gets rid of stachyose and raffinose, water-soluble complex sugars that cause discomfort...
  • #12
  • Comment by julie
This is a very popular winter dish in Denmark. We call it “gule ærter” which simply means yellow peas. Some people put vinegar in theirs but I can’t recommend it. It’s a very traditional soup and I absolutely love it!
My dad is very particular about his soup (might be because he’s a chef). He belongs to a type of “guild” that meets in the wither to have “gule ærter”. I believe it’s nationwide.

Anyway, looks delicious!
ur pictures tells the whole story..i can only imagine and call me naive but i thought pea soup is made out of green peas?
wow your soup looks great! i need to get myself a ham bone asap.
  • #15
  • Answered by fx
Clayton, thanks for visiting and hope you get to make this soup at home yourself!
  • #16
  • Answered by fx
Dave, thanks for your kind words! Well, this one I saw my daddy make and there are many recipes out there, but yes nowadays I get a sense of how to cook things without a recipe, did three dishes like this over the weekend with good results. But to be successful in a restaurant the secret, I think, is not just to make good food but to do so consistently at a profit - a tall order!
  • #17
  • Answered by fx
JD good luck if you do this soup, let me know if there is any Polish twist to this soup.
  • #18
  • Answered by fx
Techsamaritan, if you can't find the ham you might try with a piece of smoked bacon perhaps. Good luck!
  • #19
  • Answered by fx
Alys, hock is ideal for this, ham is just a plus. I think the potatoes are a nice way to add some flesh to the soup!
  • #20
  • Answered by fx
Kate, indeed pork hocks and turnip do work equally well for this fine soup!
  • #21
  • Answered by fx
Fran, have you ever thought of trying the peasoup cold? I think it would work just fine and would then make a nice summer dish. But with the summer we're having so far this year it is just what we needed!
  • #22
  • Answered by fx
Martin thanks for letting me the name of this extraordinary plant, much welcome in any garden and a staple of the vegetable soups at FXcuisine.com
  • #23
  • Answered by fx
Andreas, thaks for visiting! Would you know what ingredients are included in the traditional Swedish Pea Soup?
  • #24
  • Answered by fx
Agnieszka, thanks for visiting! What are the typical ingredients used in Polish Pea Soups?
  • #25
  • Answered by fx
Beatrice, glad to see you back! Ah that farm above Bolzano, you seem to think about it every day! I'm sure that their smoked meats would have made one terrific pea soup.
  • #26
  • Answered by fx
Julie, thanks for visiting! Do you know if there are any typical ingredients in Danish Pea Soup?
  • #27
  • Answered by fx
Lotsofcravings, pea soup is made with yellow split peas, the dried kind. Green peas serve to make green peas creams, I just made one today for lunch!
  • #28
  • Answered by fx
Susan, there are so many dishes you can cook with a ham bone, it's a great investment!
  • #29
  • Comment by Michael
Nail the bay leaves into the onion? What do you use for the nails?
  • #30
  • Answered by fx
Michael, if you look at the picture you'll see that cloves are used to nail the bay leaves to the onion - that's a most common trick to try and keep the bay leave in sight to be able to remove them later before puréeing.
  • #31
  • Comment by Saxit
The Swedish variant is very similar to your recipe minus garlic and some herbs. We also don't keep the vegetables in the soup or mix it smooth. Oh, and we serve it with a lot of mustard.
  • #32
  • Comment by shy
Great pictures and desription of recipe.
The soup looks amazing and I agree that a ham bone is a wonderful investment.  I grew up on bean soup, typically made with small white beans and slow-cooked with a ham bone.  Heavenly!
  • #34
  • Answered by fx
Allen I just made pasta con i fagioli with air-dried alpine bacon yesterday, extraordinary!
  • #35
  • Comment by Cameron Williams
Our recipes are similar. I use russian smoked pork ribs because they're more easily available here, they're very similar in taste, and easier to fit in the pot, and no potatoes. I also crush the garlic (about 12 cloves, or an entire head), and never let it reach a boil—simmer for about 4 to 5 hours at 190 degrees Fahrenheit—the garlic and peas dissolve without mashing. I use the quick-soak method instead of overnight soaking; for some reason it seems to work better, and substitute rich home-made chicken stock for half the water. My favorite soup.

Next time, I'll try it your way, though.
  • #36
  • Answered by fx
Cameron, thanks for your input! I have plans to cook 20 gallons of this peasoup and will try some variations.
  • #37
  • Comment by judi
I love you eye for photography and the pea soup looks delish-i will use that reciepe next time I make it. I was wondering if I may paint it in watercolor for a charity soup event i am involved in. Thanks !
  • #38
  • Answered by fx
Judi, go right ahead with your watercolor, but if you could kindly scan it so that I can include it in the article I'd very much like to. Good luck!
  • #39
  • Comment by Bill Colohan
I cook pea soup a fair amount.  Sometimes it turns out great, other times the peas don't break down so the soup is not pureed or smooth.  Why is this?
  • FX's answer→ Bill, you should use a blender to help reluctant peas to break down and make a smooth soup.

Here in Winnipeg Canada the local francophone population celebrate this every chance they get.
You will see this at every Festival or celebration it seems.

I differed from you as a child, I never did care for the texture of the soup. As an adult it has grown on me, especially when it gets cold out.
  • #42
  • Comment by Alexandru
Never mind the soup (which, btw, I'll try it tomorrow), but you are a such a delightful person. Your writing is full of wit.
Thank you!
PS: I-ll send you a notice about MY peas soup asap. I already have an extraordinary piece of organic smoked ham (pork, of course). Not to mention the finest peas and my homegrown greens!
  • FX's answer→ Thank you Alexandru, I hope to visit Romania one day, I really like your culinary culture but unfortunately we don't have many chances to enjoy it here in Switzerland!

  • #44
  • Comment by Monica Salazar
Todo un verdadero arte tu sopa, me quedé maravillada de cada uno de los pasos en su preparacion, realmente suculento, felicidades.
  • #45
  • Comment by Omí Wale

I learned from my mother.... mostly we use yellow split pea, but sometimes we love the green.  The sad part is when you get a package that contains some super-hard beans; no matter how long you cook them, they are horrible.  I wouldn´t blend them because they taste ugly.  Generally you get 100% good grains and then you feast.

like my mom, on purpose we leave a handful that is put in the pot later.... those will be well done but you can see them.

We use salted pig tails.

Congratulations on a splendid recipe.  You have charm to explain.


Omí Wale

  • #46
  • Comment by aspacia poteri
I often make this soup but not with as many ingredients as you. My father was Greek and he would make it with even less ingredients and serve with vinegar and olive oil either hot or cold. I think it is a favorite with all races as my scottish mother made it as well. I would agree that it is the most comforting and delicious of all the soups.
  • #47
  • Comment by Stanley Blaugrund
FX, you are truly amazing!!
  • FX's answer→ Thanks Stanley!

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