Published March 1, 1999.
An agreeably cheap cut of pork proved to be the secret to a modern but full-flavored version of this classic soup.
Split pea soup used to be the thing to make after having a served a ham for Sunday supper, whereupon you would then have the soup for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Except during the holidays, people are less apt to buy hams today, and buying a whole ham just to make soup doesn't make sense.
Find the best way to make an old-fashioned split pea soup when you just don't happen to have the remnants of a large ham sitting around, ready for the taking. Was a ham really necessary?
After much testing we discovered that ham was indeed necessary; broths made without pork tasted weak and those made with pork substitutions tasted processed. A ham bone was key to flavorful broth, and the tender pieces of ham that fell away from the bone during cooking were essential to the soup. But you don't have to buy a huge half ham; we found that a small, inexpensive picnic ham worked just fine. As for the vegetables, we found there's no need to soak the peas, but the other, fresh vegetables benefit from a deep caramelization on the stovetop. To complement the rich, deep flavor of the soup, add something acidic at the end of cooking; we found that balsamic vinegar is just the thing.list of recipes