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Saturday, October 13, 2012

French Canadian Pea Soup

The soup with croutons and roasted beet, shallot and goat cheese toast

The other day, we discovered a wonderful old school type diner on Greene Avenue in Montreal called Chez Nick.

It was the kind of place that you feel instantly comfortable in.  The staff is friendly and it is without pretension - a place where you know it is all about simple, good food (and a great breakfast  -   a good diner has to have a great, cheap breakfast).

One of the daily specials was French Canadian pea soup with ham.  When asked if it was good, our waitress expressed her love of this dish and explained that the truly authentic way to make it was with ham stock (boiling a ham on the bone for a few hours with a few vegetables for flavour).  She was French Canadian and this was the way her mother made it when she was growing up - true comfort food.

I do normally cook ham this way but never really thought about keeping the stock for another use.   I decided that the next time I prepared a ham, I would try this out.   As it turns out, I did make one for Sarah's birthday brunch (with the pumpkin apple soup for Sarah).  Once the ham was cooked, I strained the stock and kept it in the freezer until I was ready to make the pea soup.  I also reserved the ham bone (it would add a lot of flavour).

If you don't have ham stock, this soup can easily be made with vegetable or chicken stock.  This is the way my mother makes it and it is also really good.  The ham stock adds a little smokey flavor but this can easily be done by cooking a little bacon and using some of the fat to sweat the vegetables as well as adding a piece of smoked salt pork while cooking.

You will need:  for 6 large servings

  • 4 cups (720g) of dried peas, soaked overnight or boiled for 5 minutes and left to sit for one hour;
  • 1 tbs (15ml) oil
  • 1 large shallot (50g), diced
  • 1 small leek (50g), white part only, cleaned and diced
  • 1 large carrot (100g), peeled and diced 
  • 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 large bay leaf, torn in half
  • ham bone (if you have) or 1 large piece of smoked salt pork about 200g
  • 8 cups (2 L) of ham, vegetable or chicken stock
  • chopped ham (to your taste);
  • 2 tbsp of herbes salées du bas du St Laurent (if you don't have this, don't worry, just season with salt, pepper and a little chopped parsley
  • 1 tbsp (15ml) of seasoned rice vinegar


  1. Soak the dried peas overnight in large bowl and completely cover with cold water (water should be about 2 inches (5 cm) over the peas as they will absorb a lot of the liquid);
  2. If you do not have time to soak the peas, put them in a large pot, covered with water and bring to a boil.  Turn off the heat and let them sit for one hour in the water;
  3. Drain the peas;
  4. Heat 1 tbsp (15ml) of oil in large pot over medium heat;
  5. Add the diced carrot (1 large - 100g), diced leek (1 small - 50g), diced shallot (1 medium - 50g) and sweat for 5 minutes;
  6. Add the soaked peas (4 cups - 720g), the ham bone, the stock (8 cups - 2 L), the fresh thyme (3 sprigs), the smoked salt pork (if you are using it) and the torn bay leaf ;
  7. Cook for about 2 hours or until the peas are tender;
  8. Remove the bone (or salt pork), bay leaf and thyme sprigs;
  9. In blender, purée 1/2 of pea/vegetable mix and return it to the remaining soup;
  10. Add the salted herbs (2 tbsp - 30 ml), or seasoning;
  11. Stir in the seasoned rice vinegar (1 tbsp - 15 ml) and chopped ham;
  12. Taste and adjust seasoning if required;
  13. This soup can be frozen, enjoy!

Herbes salées (salted herbs) is a product I grew up with.  It comes from the lower St-Laurence region of Québec, Bas Saint-Laurent, and is a mixture of salted herbs and vegetables.  It was, and still is,  a way to preserve the taste of the summer garden year round.  Fresh garden vegetables are chopped very small and mixed with a variety of fresh herbs.  This mix is then covered in salt and keeps in the fridge for months.  It is a great seasoning for soups, braised dishes, sauces and meats.  I use it in almost everything.  You can easily find this jar in the refrigerated produce section of your supermarket (in Québec) or you can make your own salted herbs

Note:  Peas absorb a lot of liquid so you may need to add additional stock during the cooking process or after the soup is finished to get the consistency you like.  You can also add additional small diced carrots when you reheat the soup.  This will add a little texture.  Just simmer for about 15 minutes in the soup or glaze in another pan and use as a garnish.

1 comment:

  1. Elizabeth13/10/12

    Pea soup is my favorite comfort food! I have a bowl at least 2x a week ( can of course,Habitant). Can wait to try your homemade, with love, version of my favorite soup :) thanks for the recipe!


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