I love the opening line of Louis Armstrong’s recipe for red beans and rice: “First, get a pot half the size of a tuba.” I think of that every time I start a big pot of soup. My “half-tuba” pot got misplaced following my house fire of 2001. Years later I uncovered it from the boxes, that had been hastily packed and stored. Everybody needs a half-tuba pot; it inspires you to make big batch recipes, some of which can be frozen for another day.
I decided to put the Easter ham bone to timely use. I had just pitched a bone of undetermined age, that I found hidden in the freezer, suffering from first degree freezer burn. I didn’t want that to happen again. So I pulled out my half-tuba pot and made a batch of pea soup. I’ll have family and friends at the farm soon and soup should work fine with a lunch salad or sandwich.
For years I cooked whatever recipe appeared on the package of split peas. Recently, culinary experts like Emeril and Martha have “souped up” the old recipe by using fresh herbs and chicken broth instead of water. I tried the pureed recipe from Bon Appetit, but prefer having some chunkiness to my pea soup. I also passed up Food and Wine’s chilled version.
The recipe I return to is from Cook’s Illustrated and reprinted here. Sometimes I get exasperated with Cook’s for over-analyzing recipes in their 2,500 ft. New England laboratory. I grow blurry-eyed with information overload. But doggone it, they usually get it right, though it often appears they add more steps and ingredients than necessary.
I read their two-page analysis: Modernized Ham and Split Pea Soup (2010). I confess that I was glad for the scientific data to support the use of a meaty-ham bone for the soup broth. Ham hocks, they said, made the soup too greasy and a shank added both grease and salt. Their food testers favored using a bone-in, smoked, half-picnic ham as a way of getting flavor without having to buy an 8-lb. ham.
They also encouraged caramelizing the vegetables rather than just tossing them in the pot. That’s useful information you’re not likely to see on the back of the pea package.