Monday, June 8, 2009

Pea and Ham Soup

Australia's official Head of State is the Monarch of the Commonwealth Realms, currently Queen Elizabeth II. Although her official birthday is April 26, 1926 it is celebrated on a range of dates in the different countries of the Commonwealth of Nations, in most of Australia, her birthday is officially celebrated on the second Monday in June enabling a long weekend which the Aussies love dearly. This year the 'Queen's Birthday' falls on on June 8.

I decided what better way to celebrate the day than to whip up a quintessential Brit favourite. The first thing that came to mind was Pea and Ham Soup, which honestly I must admit I have never actually eaten.

With a couple of clicks I landed on The Times Online Food and Drink, UK and found Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck fame's very own recipe. In fact the recipe he says is on the menu at his recently launched gastro-pub, Hind's Head.

Blumenthal famous for his use of molecular gastronomy at the Fat Duck - a process whereby ingredients are matched according to their chemical makeup is responsible for unusual pairings, his tasting menu features interesting delights, namely snail porridge, salmon poached in liquorice and egg and bacon ice-cream. Personally speaking the thought of molecular gastronomy - taking food out of the kitchen and into the lab - test tubes and bunson burners replacing mixing bowls and cook tops - well, my attention begins to wane. However, I cannot say it does not peak my curiosity. So if like me you manage to muster the courage, you'll be hard pressed for a table owing to the fact that the place is booked out for months in advance and then there is the matter of the cost, £125 for their tasting menu!
Now back to the soup. Warm and satisfying I recommend this soup be served as a hearty helping that requires nothing before, after or along side. It is simply marvellous on its own resonating depth in flavour and aroma, making for a rich, robust companion on a winters day.

In Blumenthal's own words, "If it were possible to pick peas from the pod and cook them within a matter of hours, then I would insist that everyone used fresh peas, but the so-called fresh peas that are available to us in the supermarket are less fresh than the frozen variety. This is because the latter are frozen within minutes of being picked, preserving the intensity of the fresh flavour."

Serves 6
For the ham-hock stock: 1 small onion, cut in half; 1 large carrot, cut in half; 1 celery stick, cut in half; 1 large leek (white part only), cut in half; 1 garlic clove, crushed; 1 bay leaf; 4-6 sprigs of thyme; 4 black peppercorns; 1 ham hock; 2 litres water

For the soup: 50g butter; 200g shallots, sliced; 75g pancetta, chopped; 1 garlic clove, crushed; 500g frozen peas, defrosted; Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To finish: 2 smoked bacon rashers, cut into 1cm dice; 180g frozen peas

Method: Combine all the ingredients for the stock in a large, heavy-based pan and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Skim any scum from the surface, reduce the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, for 2 hours until the ham hock is cooked. Remove from the heat and leave to cool, then strain the stock through a fine sieve, reserving the ham hock on one side.

For the soup, heat the butter in a large pan, add the sliced shallots, pancetta and garlic, then sweat for 10-15 minutes until the shallots are tender. Add the stock, bring to the boil and skim any scum from the top. Add the peas and return to the boil, then purée in a liquidiser. Pass through a fine sieve into a clean pan, bring back to the boil and correct the seasoning. If the soup is too thick, add a little water until the desired consistency is achieved.

Shortly before serving, fry the smoked bacon cubes in a hot pan until crisp. Flake the meat from the ham hock. Cook the frozen peas in boiling salted water until tender, then drain. Divide the peas and ham between 6 soup bowls, pour the soup on top, then scatter over the bacon and drizzle over a little of the bacon fat from the pan.

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