Pea and (Serrano) Ham soup recipe

Pea and Ham soup is a great English soup, using a cheap cut of meat to make stock, and traditionally dried split peas, again an ingredient not likely to break the bank.  This is a twist on the classic, using a remnant of a Serrano ham leg and frozen peas.

For me, this soup can either be really very good, or look and taste a bit like pond scum, I want my peas to be kept vibrant green and to keep the freshly picked taste, so I use frozen and add them right at the end. A good stock is also important, although it doesn’t have to come from a ham hock.

Buying a leg of Serrano ham in Spain can be a real bargain, if you’re clever and use the fatty bits in a pancetta style, and boil up the end of the leg, you can get an extraordinary amount from it.  I slice as much off as I can, cut strips from the fatty areas and chunk it up, 100% fat can be used to start a Spanish stew, once I can no longer slice it I cut as much meat from the bone as possible, which can then be diced and makes wonderful Carbonara, or go into stews , and then I take a (clean) saw to the remainder, cut the leg down into pieces I can get in a pan and simmer it  for 2-3 hours.You can just boil the meaty part, or throw it all in, you may not get meat off the foot but you’ll still get a lot of taste. You may need to boil up, pour off the water and start again depending on if a lot of scum forms. My mum always cooks the Christmas ham by soaking overnight, straining the water, bringing to the boil, then straining again before she simmers it, and it’s always excellent.

Serrano ham is already very salty though, so when you make a stock don’t add any!  A ham hock stock advises to put an onion,  a large carrot, a celery stick, a large leek(all cut into chunks), 1 bay leaf,  a sprig of thyme, a few black peppercorns, into a pan with your joint and water to cover, all of which will enhance greatly, but if you’re missing a couple of these don’t despair, your stock will still taste great.  For the Serrano stock I simmered it without anything else, as you are making a base for your soup in stage two, and the taste is already very intense.

Once you can get a meat fork through the joint and you can see the meat falling off the bone you can bring it off the heat, strain the stock  and let it cool down, discard any bones, put the meat onto a board for shredding once it’s cool.

This stock is fatty whether you use ham or Serrano, and there are two ways of getting rid of some of this, to use a spoon as it is simmering to skim the scum from the top, or to let the stock cool, as the fat and scum will rise to the surface and harden, you can then use a spoon to remove it. Either way, don’t forget to get rid of the fat, or your soup could well be scummy.

You should have about a  litre to 1 1/2 litres of stock from this,  and the finished soup should serve 4-6 people.

Ingredients for the soup:

1 litre stock

50-100g pancetta / chopped bacon (I was using up serrano again here)

1-2 small shallots, finely diced

1 garlic clove

10-15g butter

1/2 teaspoon thyme, fresh or dried

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

400-500g frozen peas

300g shredded ham

pepper, a little cream to serve is optional.

You should have meat on the hock joint you used for the stock, I got around 300g. When it’s cool chop and shred it into small pieces, removing as much of the fat as possible. As long as you have at least 200g of ham it’s up to you how generous you are.

In a large saucepan add some butter and fry the pancetta for a few minutes at medium heat until they start to brown, then turn down to low, add shallot and thyme, and cook until softened.  Add the garlic, continue on low heat for a couple more minutes.

Taste a little of your stock before you start pouring, it can be quite salty, as the peas have a sweetness, if it really is too salty water it down a little. Quite often a soup needs a bit more liquid after blending, so keep a bit of stock back(200ml) in the cooking process, and when you need more liquid, if it can take more stock add it, if the seasoning  is already good enough, add a bit of water instead. Add 800ml of stock, the potatoes and cook on a medium heat for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are starting to break apart.

Add the peas and when they are defrosted and warmed through, blend well.  This is where you’ll see if more stock / water is needed, and why you kept some back.  If it is too thick then gradually add more liquid until you’re happy with the consistency. Taste and add pepper. Add a little cream if you want. Put some soup into a bowl and add a couple of tablespoons of shredded ham(as shown in top picture), alternatively, stir the meat through the soup and serve.

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