How to make pea and ham soup

Also known as pease pottage, or a London particular, depending on which century you hail from, this thick, smoky pea soup is a world away from the silky, vivid green versions of midsummer. Instead, it relies on dried peas, a staple starch of the medieval table before potatoes came along and still cheap as chips, and equally comforting on a winter’s day.

Prep 15 min, plus optional overnight soaking
Cook 3 hr 15 min
Serves 6

For the ham (or use 1½ litres ham, chicken or vegetable stock, plus some shredded ham)
1 smallish smoked ham hock
1 onion
4 cloves
1 celery stick
1 carrot
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme

For the soup
2 tbsp butter

1 onion, peeled and diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
500g dried peas (green for preference), whole or split

If using whole dried peas, soak them in plenty of cold water overnight. If you can’t find any dried peas in the dried pulses section at the supermarket, you may well have more luck in Asian food stores; British dried peas are available online from Hodmedod’s.

If using split ones, simply soak them in cold water while you prepare the ham.

If you’re cooking a ham from scratch, put it in a largish pan (start from step 4 if you’re using stock). Wash and cut the onion in half (there’s no need to peel, unless it’s filthy) and stud it with the cloves.

Very roughly chop the celery and carrot (wash, but again no need to peel) into a few pieces and add these and the herbs to the pot.

Add enough cold water barely to cover the contents of the pan and bring it to a boil. Skim off any froth from the top, turn down the heat and simmer for about two and a half to three hours, until the meat is tender and cooked all the way through (if you have a food thermometer or probe, the internal temperature should be at least 60C).

Turn off the heat and leave the ham to cool in the liquid.

Drain the ham, reserving the cooking liquid but discarding the vegetables. If you’re using readymade ham stock, start the process from here.

Melt the butter in a large pan, add the chopped onion and cook gently for about five minutes, to soften. Add the chopped carrot and cook for another five minutes.

Stir in the peas (drained, if you soaked them), stir to to coat in the butter …

… then add a litre of the ham stock (if you don’t have enough cooking liquor, make it up with water). Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and cook until the peas begin to break down – bear in mind that whole peas will take longer to cook than split ones, and may also require more liquid.

Meanwhile, strip the ham from the bone and shred (or shred whatever ham you are using). Once the peas have broken down (if using whole peas, once they’re soft, you can use a stick blender or a potato masher to hurry them along), use the remaining stock to thin the soup to your desired consistency, if need be.

Stir most of the shredded ham into the soup (depending on the size of your joint, you may well not need it all), season to taste, then serve with a little more ham sprinkled on top. This soup keeps and reheats very well, though you might want to thin it again with water.

To make this vegetarian, use vegetable stock instead, and stir a teaspoon of smoked paprika into the pan just before you add the drained peas. I also add a tablespoon of Marmite at the end, dissolved in warm water, to give it some extra savoury oomph, but that’s entirely optional.

If you don’t thin the soup and keep it very thick, you can even serve this as a side dish for the sliced ham, rather than as a soup. It’s also very nice with roast or braised pork, or indeed as a side dish in general. Garnish with chopped herbs or spring onions.

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