French Canadian Pea Soup
October 22, 2010
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Yellow pea soup is the signature traditional dish of Québec. In Canada and the heavily French regions of New England it is usually made with whole dried yellow peas known as soup peas. However those are difficult or impossible to find elsewhere so split yellow peas will do. Smoked ham hocks are probably the most common meat used in pea soup but a meaty hambone or even salt pork is often used. The soup always has onions, usually a carrot, and traditionally a bit of turnip. What may come as a surprise to many is that it sometimes contains hominy (blé d’Inde lessivé) which was widely used in the eastern parts of French Canada, now part of the Maritime Provinces. (My mother, being of Acadian extraction, always used hominy in her pea soup) If you can find, or make, salt herbs (herbes salées) by all means add them at the end. A bit of dry sherry stirred in at the table is nice too.
- 1 pound yellow split peas
- 1 meaty hambone
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, scraped and chopped
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 quarts cold water
- ⅓ cup dry white hominy or 1 can hominy, drained
- ¼ cup herbes salées, if using
- Salt to taste
Soak the peas in a large bowl of cold water for at least 3 hours or overnight. (I usually don’t soak legumes before cooking them but for this recipe it is essential to getting a good texture)
Drain the soaked peas and rinse well. Put them in a large soup pot along with the hambone, onion, carrot, and generous grind of black pepper. Cover with the 3 quarts of water and bring to a boil, skimming off the foam as it forms. Reduce heat and simmer gently, partially covered for 2 hours. While the soup is simmering, soak the dried hominy in cold water.
After 2 hours, remove the hambone from the soup and set aside to cool. Using a stick blender, or in batches in a food processor, puree the soup to a smooth consistency. Drain and add the hominy. Return to a low simmer, uncovered for another hour adding a bit of water as needed. The soup will tend to stick to the bottom of the pot a bit so stir it frequently, scraping up any stuck bits. When the hambone is cool enough to handle, remove the meat, chop it, and add to the pot. When done, stir in the herbes salées, if using, and salt the soup to taste.