Split Pea and Smoked Duck Soup
Like half of New York, I have spent much of this past week feeling sick with some sort of cold. Coupled with the bitter weather, all I have craved is the warmth of my bed and a bowl of chicken soup. However, after four meals of chicken soup in the past week, I was in need of a change. Not to mention, after days of exaggerated laziness, I felt the need for something that felt special. Something that made me once again feel civilized.
Since the Mediterranean Eggplant Dip was such a hit, I headed back to The New York Times’ Dining & Wine website for a soup that met my needs. Not knowing what I was looking for, I did the oh-so-complicated search for “soup” and one of the first recipes to pop up was this one. Hearty? Check. Special? Check. Comforting? Check. I had my soup.
This is one of those recipes that starts off pretty basic. Sure, the duck is a bit more than folks normally cook with, but ultimately the overall flavor is pretty much what you would expect. However, what makes this special is the watercress and lemon mixture that you top the soup with. Brilliant. The soup is rich and creamy with the tasty warmth of the smoked and cured meats. The watercress and lemon topping then adds such a surprisingly nice contrast. It’s refreshing and incredibly tasty.
Note that the recipe calls for smoked duck. In the cloudiness that my head was buried in, I erroneously bought a regular duck breast instead. It worked, but do try to find a smoked duck breast if you can. You should find it in the packaged meat section of a nice market. If you can’t find a smoked duck breast, I then recommend that you substitute it with 1/4 pound of good, smoked ham combined with an additional 1/4 pound of pancetta.
The recipe as provided in The New York Times is for six servings. I halved the recipe and found that it was plenty for four people (perhaps three if you are feeding large bellies). Therefore, I am sharing the recipe below with half measurements since I think it is more realistic for most people. I am also increasing the measurements for the watercress topping (keeping it at the original amounts). You just can’t have too much of it, and I think that the topping is what really makes this special and sets it aside from your everyday split pea soup (I ended up adding another large dollop to my soup than what is shown in the picture above). I’m also adding some shallot to the topping.
So here it is for 3-4 servings, as adapted Molly O’Neill’s recipe featured in The New York Times:
- 1/2 pound of smoked duck breast, skin on
- 1/2 cup finely diced Italian pancetta
- 1 small onion, minced
- 1 carrot, coarsely chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 pound dried split peas
- 4 cups chicken broth
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 shallot, finely diced
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 cups minced watercress
- Cut the smoked duck into a fine dice and place it, skin side down, in a heavy-bottom casserole or stockpot over medium heat along with the pancetta.
- Cook for 3 minutes to release the fat from the meat, stir and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Remove half the meat, drain well and set aside on a plate lined with a paper towel.
- Add the onion and carrots, stir and cook until the vegetables begin to soften, about 3 minutes.
- Add the bay leaf, the split peas and the chicken broth, stir, partly cover and simmer for 40 minutes to 1 hour until the peas are tender.
- Adjust the consistency of the soup with more chicken broth if necessary to achieve a thick, but still soupy, consistency.
- Adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. The soup can be made to this point up to one day before serving.
- A half-hour before serving, warm the soup. Place the lemon juice in a bowl with a dash of salt and several grinds of black pepper. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add the shallot, reserved duck and pancetta and toss. Add the watercress and set aside.
- When the soup is hot, stir in the heavy cream, quickly and vigorously. You want to completely enrich the soup while smashing as few peas as possible. (I let my peas get all smashed up since that’s how I like it.) Serve garnished generously with the duck and watercress salad.