Why It Works
- We keep it simple with aromatics, ham, and stock as the background for green split peas.
- The pressure cooker cuts the peas' cooking time in half, while adding more flavor.
- Rapidly releasing the pressure causes the contents of the pressure cooker to vigorously boil, turning the soup creamy with no need for a blender.
Let's face it: Pea soup is not an attractive dish. It's not even attractive in a down-home, plain kinda way. It looks like, well, like something that is projectile-vomited out of Linda Blair's mouth.
Good thing it's got some pretty darn redeeming characteristics. It's cheap, filling, hearty, and deliciously smoky with ham, and the only downside is that it's ever-so-slightly fussy and time-consuming to make.
Traditionally, you'd start by sautéing some vegetables and diced ham or a ham hock in butter, then add the dried split peas and stock. You'd then let the whole thing simmer until the peas are fall-apart tender, which takes about an hour. (Al dente is not a feature you're looking for here.)
Ideally, the peas will break down enough to form a creamy broth on their own, with little work required on your part. Realistically, you usually end up having to purée it with either a hand blender or a countertop blender if you really want it creamy and thick.
But you want to know a secret? There's a way to make it easier, faster, and more delicious: Just use a pressure cooker.
You'll form the base of the soup the exact same way (reducing the amount of broth by about 25% to account for the fact that no evaporation or reduction occurs in a pressure cooker), seal the lid, and let it cook. At high pressure, those peas are cooking at 250°F (120°C). At that temperature, not only do the peas take just 20 minutes to fully tenderize, but you also get a bit of Maillard browning, which lends the soup a richer, more complex flavor.
The neat part is that once those 20 minutes are up, if you immediately lift the pressure-release valve on the pressure cooker, the rapid boiling that occurs inside will shake up the contents so vigorously that the peas will essentially purée themselves.
When you open it up, you'll release a thick cloud of steam (as thick as pea soup, perhaps) and find the soup bubbling away underneath. Season it to taste with salt, pull out your plainest bowls and spoons, and dinner is served.
Warning: Split peas are particularly prone to clogging valves and foaming, so some precautions are necessary when cooking them in a pressure cooker. Do not attempt to double this recipe—the split peas and liquid should not come more than halfway up the pot. Do not cut down on butter, since fat can help inhibit foaming; you can use oil in place of the butter and omit the ham if you're making a vegan version of the dish. If using a stovetop pressure cooker, do not set the heat higher than medium-high, and monitor carefully, lowering the heat to maintain pressure as soon as it has come to pressure. After cooking, make sure to immediately clean the gasket and valves on the lid as soon as the pot is cool enough to handle, since pea soup can clog the valves and harden if not properly cleaned.
Thanks to my friend Laura Pazzaglia from Hip Pressure Cooking for alerting me to these potential dangers.
P.S.: Here is a traditional recipe, just in case you haven't jumped on the pressure-cooker bandwagon yet (get jumping!).
30-Minute Split Pea Soup in Your Pressure Cooker
3 tablespoons (45g) unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely diced (about 6 ounces; 170g)
1 large rib celery, finely diced (about 4 ounces; 125g)
6 ounces (170g) ham steak, diced (see notes)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 pound (450g) dried green split peas
6 cups (1.5L) homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock, or water
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Melt butter in a pressure cooker over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and ham and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds.
Add peas, chicken stock or water, and bay leaves. Stir to combine, then cover pot and bring to high pressure. Cook for 20 minutes, then rapidly release pressure by opening the air valve. Open pot lid, stir contents until smooth, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve. Carefully clean the pressure cooker's gasket and valves as soon as the pot is cool enough to handle; pea soup can easily clog valves, which can cause your cooker to over-pressurize the next time you use it. Soup can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
You can use a whole cured or smoked ham hock in place of the diced ham, or bacon or pancetta, if you prefer. If you use a hock, pick off the meat after cooking in step 2 and add it back to the soup, discarding the bone.
Electric countertop pressure cooker or stovetop pressure cooker
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 6 to 8|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 6g||8%|
|Saturated Fat 3g||15%|
|Total Carbohydrate 40g||14%|
|Dietary Fiber 15g||53%|
|Total Sugars 6g|
|Vitamin C 11mg||55%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|