Classic French Canadian Yellow Split-Pea Soup
The French Canadians in the province of Quebec survive winters with natural fortitude and yellow split-pea soup. The echoes of a continental French cultural influence can be heard in the recitation of the ingredients. Any homemaker in 16th century France would most likely take the following list of ingredients and assemble them in the same way as a cook in Quebec City today does.
The savory flavor of the ham, and selection of herbs, excite the senses of smell and aromatics. The real soul-satisfying comfort comes from the rich, thick body of the “almost stew.” It fills and warms the body and mind. The yellow color reminds us of the warmth of summer and the leaves of autumn. For rural Quebecois, it is a reminder to keep the pig well fed.
The Tradition Began with the Coureur des Bois
“Soupe aux pois (Jaunes) (yellow pea soup) is a traditional dish in Québec cuisine. Credit for inventing split pea soup, a classic French Canadian food, can be given to the Coureur des Bois. They made a soup from the cured meats, and dried pea intended to last on their long journey. The result is a Canadian dish that has survived centuries and is still thoroughly enjoyed today.
The most authentic version of Quebec’s soupe aux pois uses whole yellow peas, salt pork, and herbs for flavor. After cooking, the pork is usually chopped and returned to the soup, or sometimes removed to slice thinly and served separately.
Outside Francophone areas, pea soup is sometimes served with johnnycake. This is reflected in an old saying: “pea soup and johnnycake makes a Frenchman’s bellyache.”
Canadian-Style Yellow Split-Pea Soup
(with Smoked Beer)
3 bottles – Schlenkerla Wheat Smokebeer
32 oz. Box of Chicken Stock
½ lb. Bacon (chopped)
4 Tbsp. Fresh Parsley (chopped)
2 large White Onions (diced),
2 Cups – Carrots, Celery, Parsnips and Rutabaga (equal amounts of each, chopped),
1 – Smoked Pork Neck Bone (1.77 lb./$4.05),
1 – Smoked Pork Ham Hock(1.51 lb./$3.46),
2 lb. (One Bag) – Yellow Split Peas
The ingredients. Clockwise from 1200: Schlenkerla Wheat Smokebeer (two unopened), 32 oz., one box of chicken stock, one bottle of Schlenkerla Wheat Smokebeer (less 16 ounces for “tasting notes”), one-pint glass of Schlenkerla Wheat Smokebeer (less four ounces for “Tasting Notes”)*, one half pound bacon (chopped), four tablespoons of chopped fresh Parsley, two large white onions (diced), two cups of carrots, celery, parsnips, and rutabaga (equal amounts of each, chopped), smoked pork neck bones (1.77 lb./$4.05), smoked pork ham hock (1.51 lb./$3.46), in the middle is two pounds of yellow split-peas. On the range, the top is an 8-quart stock-pot, and a sizeable stirring spoon.
(*Three pints of any amber or lighter colored smoked beer will do.)
The first thing to do is turn on a medium-high heat under the soup pot and place the bacon in the bottom to cook.
When it is almost crisp, and as much of the fat has been rendered out, it is time to add the onions. Cook the onions and bacon together for about five minutes or until the onions are translucent.
Now turn the heat down to medium and toss in the chopped veggies. Let them cook with the onions and bacon until just tender, about five minutes or so…
When the veggies are just tender, it’s time to toss the meat into the pot and pour the chicken stock and beer in after that. Next, pour the yellow split peas in and finally throw in the chopped fresh Parsley. Stir well and turn the heat down to low… place a lid on the pot and go have a few beers. It’s going to take at least four hours… stirring things up every half hour or so. Don’t rush the process.
After about three hours and a six-pack of sustenance, it’s time to take the lid off the pot of soup, and each stir-up should involve a fair bit of tasting. Did you notice I haven’t mentioned either salt or pepper? Well, now is the time to add those two flavor enhancers… to taste.
Now… If it calls for a few more beers before the split-peas break down into an almost smooth puree, then so be it. No greater sacrifice can be made by a chef in any kitchen than to swipe and swig a beer to ensure the quality of the dish and to ensure that enough time is taken to bring the dish to the epitome of perfection. Take the time to allow the collagens from the bones and tendons to become part of the soup. Allow the salt from the pork and the starches of the split-peas to synthesize into a sweet/salty/pork/onion/smoke flavor that only long, slow simmering can accomplish.
Ladle out a bowl of this thick soup, pour one more beer,
and thank you, Canada!
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