Split pea soup, the way I make it, is one of the laziest things in the world to make. It is lazy in a good way, lazy in the way of afternoons with open books and time to read them . . . lazy in the way of a comforting lull that demands very little, but which will eventually yield a lot.
What you need to start is smoked ham shanks. You’ll see what they look like in the photo above. They need to be meaty! And no, boneless ham of whatever sort can not be substituted. There are reasons for this, but if you don’t already know what the reasons are you will later, after tasting the soup when it’s done.
Lazily take the shanks (or hocks, that is another word for pretty much the same thing) along with some bay leaves and put them in a pot. Cover them with cold water, chilly water, water like a spring tumbling down the mountainside if there were one there! And put the pot over low heat, very low heat, heat like the warmth of a cat’s belly when the cat is only purring at the lowest purr.
Go off and do something else. Do whatever you wish! Every now and then check back to see that the surface of the water in the pot is shimmering slightly, but never boiling or roiling or sputtering. Keep it lazy. But don’t worry if it does boil. Just reduce the heat, and if some water has boiled off, add more to top it off, to cover the meat.
After about two hours, stick a fork into the shank. If the meat is starting to fall off the bones, remove the pot from the heat. If it still feels tense, leave it on for another half hour to an hour. Even ham shanks are different than each other in ways, so there’s no use trying to give an exact detail. Just feel it and know it.
Let the pot and the shanks cool off, but for not more than two hours. Then cover the pot and put it in the fridge and forget about it, till tomorrow.
A little bit of this, and a little bit of that, but a little bit different than how the soup is made starting about forty-five seconds into this clip below. Nonetheless, when we’ve made the soup the adaptations can be ladled out generously (and for those who do not like meaty smoked ham shanks they can even be left out entirely)! We’ll address that with the Periodic Table of Split Pea Soup Elements, after all is lazily done over the next few posts.