Ever since I read on the Stitch And Bear blog about Byrne’s in Phibsborough selling smoked ham hocks I’ve wanted to pay a visit to get some for making this soup but it was only last Saturday that I finally got a chance to visit the shop. It’s actually a remarkable place, the first thing you encounter when you walk in the door is the wonderful smell because all the meat is smoked on the premises; I don’t think there’s any other butcher in Dublin doing anything remotely like this and I can’t believe I I’m only finding out about such an amazing resource now. (A word of warning though, they don’t take cards – make sure you have some cash on you.)
The recipe itself has its genesis in a few places though, not just Phibsborough: the first is a book I got as a present two years ago called The Flavour Thesaurus where I first read about the combination of peas and parsnips; I made a version last year using split peas rather than fresh as it was the middle of winter and I was very happy with the results. I’d also added a few rashers of smoked bacon knowing they’d add a nice dimension but unfortunately I didn’t use enough: their flavour got totally lost so I knew I’d have to ramp it up a bit the next time.
The other source of inspiration was Modernist Cuisine, Nathan Myhrvold’s 2,500 page opus detailing pretty much every facet of cooking imaginable (you may have read about it when it was released last year). Given the book costs €500 it’s handy they’ve included some recipes on their website because I don’t think I’ll be able to afford it any time soon. The one that interested me most was the Caramelized Carrot Soup which sounds pretty innocuous until you actually read it and see one of the recommendations is making carotene butter using a centrifuge!
This sort of madness is standard for Modernist Cuisine but thankfully the centrifuge is not vital as the main thing we’re concerned with is how the carrots have been cooked: by using baking soda and a pressure cooker you can greatly accelerate the browning reactions responsible for making roasted food taste so good. Obviously, this method is generalisable to pretty much any vegetable although ones high in natural sugar are obvious candidates, hence why I chose to cook the parsnips in this way.
However, having read a few horror stories online about people burning their carrots when bringing the pressure cooker up to full pressure I decided to take some precautions by adding some water to the pot as well as the butter (which, according to the researchers, must be melted before sealing) and also strictly limiting the time spent on the stove; in fact, as you can see I think I was overly cautious and could probably have pushed it a bit further. Even so, the parsnips were incredibly sweet with a deep roasted flavour.
Still, there are a few more things I’d do differently when making this the next time, the first being that I would soak the hocks I used for making my stock over the course of twenty four hours (changing the water frequently) because I didn’t realise how salty they were: the resulting broth was lovely but so heavily seasoned I could only use 250ml in case I made the soup inedible. The second involves dry frying the garnish of shredded ham pieces till they’re nice and crispy and act almost like a meaty crouton. I tried this when I had the leftovers the following day and it was far nicer than using the plain unfried meat first time around.
For the smoked ham hock stock
2 smoked ham hocks
100g onions, finely diced
50g carrots, finely diced
50g celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 bay leaf
5 sprigs parsley
2 sprigs thyme
For the soup
1 smoked ham hock
500g cored parsnips, chopped into 2cm pieces
2.5g baking soda
250ml smoked ham hock stock
500ml veal stock
100g split peas
2.5ml cider vinegar
- For the stock, soak the ham hocks over the course of a day, changing the water every few hours.
- Cut as much meat off the ham hocks and expose as much bone as possible.
- Put the meat, bone and rest of the stock ingredients into a pressure cooker and cover with water.
- Bring the cooker to full pressure and cook for two hours.
- Allow to depressurize naturally and strain the contents through a fine sieve.
- Reserve 250ml of the stock and freeze the rest for use in other dishes.
- For the soup, put the ham hock in a pressure cooker and cover with water.
- Bring the cooker to full pressure and cook for 50 minutes.
- Allow to depressurize naturally and remove the hock, discarding the water.
- Strip the meat from the bone and shred.
- Place a frying pan over a high heat, and dry fry the hock shreds until crispy. Reserve.
- Add the split peas to a pan of cold water.
- Bring to the boil and then simmer for around 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in the pressure cooker and add the parsnips.
- Add the baking soda and stir everything around to coat the pieces with the butter.
- Bring the cooker to full pressure and cook for 20 minutes (use the lowest heat possible for maintaining full pressure to prevent burning).
- Quickly depressurise the cooker by running cold water over the lid.
- Drain the peas and add them to the pressure cooker along with the veal and ham stock.
- Simmer for another five minutes and then blend in a blender until smooth before passing through a fine sieve.
- Adjust the seasoning (may not be necessary as the ham hock stock might be quite salty) and then stir in the vinegar.
- Divide between four bowls and sprinkle some of the shredded ham into each.