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Recipe: Peas please me, and ham it up too! – Split pea and ham hock soup

A bowl of pea and ham soup
Pea and ham soup – a real winter warmer.

In my last review on Scrumptious Scran – for the excellent The Apiary bistro – I mentioned how, at the end of a long winter, we often need something comforting (food-wise) to provide a bit of cheer. Spring, may be about to bring us warmer days and the year’s first crop of fresh produce, but even March can have a wintry sting in its tail.

When we can now skip to the supermarket to purchase out-of-season asparagus jetted in from South America, or fresh tomatoes grown at any time of year, it’s easy to forget that historically during this season people would mostly be cooking with produce harvested the preceding year, and preserved to last through the winter. Personally speaking I think that some of the best comfort food to be made uses these preserved ingredients, and a fine example of this can be found in a steaming-hot bowl of split pea and smoked ham hock soup.

Split peas, vegetables and herbs in a pan about to be boiled.
Split peas and flavourings about to be cooked.

There’s something truly lovely about the look of this deep khaki-green concoction, punctuated with pink flecks of meat. But if it looks good, it tastes event better. Drying the peas imparts a really earthy mellowness to them, totally different to the taste of these legumes when fresh out the pod. By salting, then smoking the hock (or hough), the rich meaty flavour of this cut is further enhanced and transformed to yield (once simmered for a couple of hours) tenderly smoky, almost gamey meat. The further addition of good quality stock and some complimentary herbs and spices all combine to produce a splendidly tasty and filling dish. And what’s more, given that the ingredients are usually pretty cheap, it makes for an economical meal, too.

Smoked ham hough (hock) simmering in a pan.
Splendid simmering smoked ham hock (hough).

Now it occurred to me that though this is a traditional dish, it isn’t one that can be enjoyed by non-meat eaters. However, I did think that the recipe could be adapted, leaving out the smoked ham and substituting in its place a couple of (rehydrated) dried sweet peppers, together with a teaspoon or two of smoked pimentón (paprika). This should provide a complimentary contrast in texture to the peas, together with an intense, smoke-tinged flavour. I’d be interested to hear back from anyone who tries the vegetarian alternative, but in the meantime I give you my own take on this scrumptious, winter warmer (with split peas and ham hock).

  • 1 smoked ham hock of good quality – I tend to use those from Simon Howie.
  • 500g packet of green split peas, soaked in water overnight.
  • 2 small onions, peeled.
  • A large carrot, scrubbed and chopped into large chunks.
  • 3 bay leaves – fresh if you can get them.
  • 4 cloves.
  • A couple of sprigs of thyme, leaves removed from stalks.
  • About 1.5 litres of chicken or vegetable stock.
  • Salt and pepper.

Preparation and cooking

  1. Place the ham hock in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Place in the fridge and soak for 24 hours – changing the water a couple of times – to remove excess salt resulting from the curing process.
  2. Drain the ham hock and place in a large pan and cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil and then cover and simmer for an hour and a half or so, until the meat is “fall off the bone” tender. Remove and set aside until the joint is cool enough to handle.
  3. Stud the onions with two cloves each. Place in a large pan together with the pre-soaked split peas, carrots and bay leaves. Cover with the stock (add a little more water if necessary) and bring to the boil. With a slotted spoon, remove any foam that rises to the surface. Turn down the heat and simmer the peas until soft (about an hour or so). When soft, remove the onions, carrots and bay leaves. Add the thyme leaves and either mash the peas, or puree with a hand blender if you prefer a smoother soup.
  4. When the hock is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and any excess fat. Using a couple of forks separate the flesh in strands, and then add to the pea puree. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as required. If the soup is very thick add a little water, then heat through until just simmering and serve in warmed bowls, with fresh bread and butter as an accompaniment.

ham hock/ recipe/ salad/ Simon Howie

Recipe: Get the hock out! – Smoked ham hock and summer vegetable salad

Tasty smoked ham hock salad.
Summery ham hock salad – keep the BBQ in the shed!

This is really pleasant. The sun is shining, which makes for a lovely evening, and as I write I’m sipping a chilled glass of white wine. It would appear that summer has finally arrived, albeit several months behind schedule. The smell of barbecues drifting through the open windows of Scrumptious Scran Towers confirms this.

Got to love a BBQ… Well yes and no. Done properly, they are great. Tastily marinated meat and fish, succulently cooked; chargrilled vegetable kebabs with squeaky haloumi cheese; and on the side, bowls of new potatoes coated in thick mayonnaise, chives and parsley. All shared by friends and family lounging around in a garden full of chat and laughter.

Enticing though this scene may seem, it isn’t always easily achieved. Forward planning is absolutely key to the success of a good barbecue. There’s the preparing of marinades, combined with the hours these take to work their wonder on the meat or fish of choice. Then there comes the stress of ensuring the charcoal is at just the right heat so that the fare that is on offer doesn’t get burnt to a crisp, or worse still, is revealed as being still raw in the middle when bitten into. Is it such a surprise then, that sometimes when the sun is shining I yearn for tasty, summery food this isn’t such high maintenance?

A great example of this is an appetising salad with smoked ham hock, and seasonal vegetables at its centre. The hock is cheap, and a good quality one – such as the one supplied by Simon Howie, which I used here – will provide all the smokey, meaty flavour you would normally expect from something cooked on a barbecue. All that has to be done to prepare the ham is pop it in a pan of simmering water for an hour and half and then shred the tender meat from the bone. Stress free lazing in the sunshine can ensue whilst this preparation takes place.

When ready, by mixing the hock with the salty-savouriness of green olives; the sweetness of tomatoes, beetroot and smokey, roast yellow pepper; and the spicy kick provided by radishes and red onion you will definitely achieve a winning taste combination. A salad isn’t a salad unless properly dressed, of course, and to accomplish this I douse the ingredients with a vinaigrette which mixes extra virgin olive oil with sherry and balsamic vinegar, and a good measure of grain mustard. Combining the two varieties of vinegar brings both acidity and sweetness to the dressing, which is then underlined by the gentle heat of the mustard grains.

The ham hock may take a little while to cook, but it can be left unattended once at a simmer, unlike meat on a barbecue, and the rest of the salad ingredients literally take a few minutes to prepare. What can be better than a great tasting, stress free dish that allows for plenty of lazing in the sunshine?

The recipe serves up to four people as a lunch or light supper dish.


  • 1 smoked ham hock, on the bone
  • 1 small red onion, finely sliced
  • 1 yellow pepper, grilled until the skin chars, skin removed and de-seeded
  • 4 pre-cooked beetroot bulbs, roughly sliced
  • 4-6 radishes, finely sliced
  • 12 small tomatoes, halved
  • 12 pitted green olives, rinsed
  • 6-8 leaves of little gem lettuce, rinsed and roughly shredded
  • 1tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2tsp sherry vinegar
  • 3tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½tsp grain mustard
  • Salt and pepper to season.

Preparation and cooking

  1. Place the ham hock in a large, lidded pan and cover with water. Bring the water to a simmer, and skim off any foam that rises to the surface, with a slotted spoon. Turn down the heat to low, place the lid on the pan and cook for around an hour and a half until the meat is “fall off the bone” tender.
  2. When the ham hock is cooked, remove from the pan to a plate, and allow it to cool before removing the skin together with any excess surface fat. Pull the meat off the bone and chop into smaller segments if necessary.
  3. Whilst the meat is cooling, grill a whole yellow pepper until all the skin becomes charred. Place in a freezer bag for a few minutes, which will allow the skin to be peeled away. Remove the stalk and seeds, but be sure to retain any juice from the pepper to add to the salad. Roughly slice the pepper flesh and place in a large salad bowl.
  4. Add the sliced beetroot, onion, radishes, tomatoes to the salad bowl, together with the whole olives and pieces of ham hock.
  5. In a small bowl, mix together the vinegars, oil and mustard – together with pepper and a small amount of salt (the olives and hock will add salt to the salad) – to form a smooth vinaigrette.
  6. Pour 2/3 of the vinaigrette onto the salad ingredients and mix to coat them well.
  7. Place the lettuce leaves on the serving plates, and pile the other salad ingredients on top of these. Pour over the remaining dressing and serve.

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