Ever since my first taste of split pea soup at Pea Soup Andersen’s, I’ve carried nostalgic feelings towards this thick, moss green soup and the light-hearted break that the roadside restaurant delivers.
Well-made split pea soup is full-bodied and velvety. You taste the complex layering of flavors from aromatic mirepoix to smoky ham hock.
The soup is filling with a satisfying viscosity, making it possible to eat as a full meal by itself. Yet, it’s not so dominant that you couldn’t have other dishes alongside a modest bowl of soup, such as a burger or poached salmon.
I’ve made split pea soup for the last few years on the stove. This year, I decided to learn how to make it in the Instant Pot and discovered the recipe translates well with a few necessary adjustments.
This recipe walks you through how to make split pea soup in the Instant Pot with plenty of tips to ensure your success.
Do you need to soak the peas?
Whenever cooking lentils, dried beans, or other legumes, I’m careful to soak them the day before in case they require cooking forever.
For my first batch of lentil soup in the Instant Pot, I soaked the split peas. For the second batch, I did not.
Other than slightly longer cooking time (maybe 1-2 hours longer), I didn’t notice any difference in the final result.
So, if you’re organized enough to remember to soak the split peas ahead of time, go ahead. It’ll save you some cooking time.
But if you haven’t soaked the peas yet, you can still make the soup without worrying about an overly chunky soup or excessively long cook times.
Where to buy ham hock
Ham hock is a traditional ingredient in the classic version of split pea soup. Unfortunately, it can be tough to track down.
I called 3 different grocery stores in my neighborhood. 2 out of 3 said they’ve run out of ham hock.
Luckily, the third one had 2 in stock that they put aside for me (turns out it was Whole Foods).
If you have a butchery in your city, it could be worth checking if they carry ham hocks or if they could order some for you. You might also check your local farmers market.
TIP: I recommend calling the meat section of your local grocery store to check unless you’re already in the store to save an unfruitful trip.
How to substitute ham hock
In light of how challenging it is to track down ham hocks, fortunately, there are substitutes.
What is the ham hock adding to the soup?
- Smoky flavors
- Collagen (from the bone)
- Umami (distinctive rich meaty taste)
- Protein (if you serve the meat from the ham hock with the soup)
For pork eaters: The closest substitute for ham hock is smoked bacon or smoked pork sausages. These substitutes deliver the same smoky flavors, umami-packed meaty taste, fat, and salt.
For non-pork meat eaters: You can use smoked chicken or turkey bacon to deliver a similar smoky flavor that provides plenty of fat and salt.
For vegetarians: A vegetarian version of split pea soup will taste the most different from the original flavor of split pea soup made with ham hock. That doesn’t mean your vegetarian version is inferior—just different.
To deliver an equally tasty vegetarian soup, you’ll want to add extra oil or fat and salt. Olive oil and butter are fine substitutes. You can add soy sauce or similarly umami-packed ingredients (like tamari, nutritional yeast, and Marmite). And you can add smokiness with smoked paprika and/or smoke-dried chipotles.
In a vegetarian version, you’ll also benefit from using the most flavorful vegetable stock you can find (or make) to add layers of flavors to your soup.
Why make split pea soup in an Instant Pot
Since our kitchen has been demolished, I’ve relied on the microwave and Instant Pot for most of our cooking needs. This was a great opportunity to convert my split pea soup recipe from stovetop cooking to the Instant Pot.
There are numerous benefits to using an Instant Pot (or any slow cooker) to make soups and broths:
- Once you add all the ingredients, you can leave it for a few hours to cook.
- You can make the soup overnight or while you’re at work so dinner is ready when you’re home from work.
- Cooking in a slow cooker makes sure your split peas have sufficient time to soften and become a creamy soup.
- Slow cookers can use up less electricity and heat up your kitchen less than turning on your stove or oven.
NOTE: The biggest downside to using an Instant Pot (or another brand slow cooker) is the difficulty of browning the vegetables to develop flavors from the mirepoix. There are tricks to overcome this problem.
Why this recipe uses the Slow Cook mode, not Pressure
I found most of the Instant Pot split pea soup recipes on the Web cook the soup under pressure mode for 15 minutes to make split pea soup in record time.
These recipes didn’t work for me. They were disappointing.
My pressure cooked soup ended up burnt at the bottom where the soup touched the inner pot. The peas never softened so I had lumpy hard bits in my soup (not the creamy, thick soup I anticipated). Plus, I don’t love the flavors that onion can give off when cooked under pressure.
I thought split pea soup in the Instant Pot was doomed until Alex suggested we try the slow cook mode. This made all the difference, and we were both super happy with the taste of slow-cooked soup.
TIP: The only downside of slow cooking vs pressure cooking is that you’ll have to factor more time for making the soup as it won’t be ready under 1 hour. Prepare the soup the night before or the morning of, and it’ll be ready in time for dinner.
How to make the soup on the stove
This recipe for making the split pea soup in an Instant Pot translates directly to any slow cooker or stovetop cooking. You can follow the same recipe instructions to make the recipe on the stove.
TIP: Simmer the soup on the lowest heat setting until the peas break down to a soft texture.
The biggest difference between cooking the split pea soup on the stove and in the Instant Pot is the amount of moisture. The Instant Pot’s lid has a tight seal, even if you’re using the Slow Cook mode.
Because the seal allows little water to evaporate, you’ll get a watered down soup if you add too much water.
However, if cooking on the stovetop, too little water risks burning the bottom of the soup or the peas don’t have enough moisture to break down.
TIP: If you’re cooking this soup on the stove, you will want to add an extra cup of water and monitor it. Check at least every 30 minutes to make sure there’s enough water to avoid a burnt soup. Add 1 cup of additional water at a time and stir through to keep the soup moist if it looks like the soup is cracking on top from dryness.
Tips for success
- Over salted: The ham hocks can add a lot of salt that makes your soup taste too salty. To make the soup more palatable and less salty, you can increase the amount of water. If you find the soup is still too salty once it’s served, eat it with fresh bread rolls or toasted grainy bread. If you have a bread bowl, you can serve the soup in that too.
- Monitor the water levels: If you find the soup too watery, you can leave the lid off the Instant Pot for 30 minutes at the end of cooking to allow the excess water to evaporate. If it’s too dry or gummy (the soup gets thicker as it stands), add ½ cup of water and stir through. Repeat is necessary.
- Scaling the recipe: You can double the recipe if you’re cooking the split pea soup on the stove, and your soup pot is sufficiently large to hold the doubled quantity of ingredients. You may cautiously double the recipe if your Instant Pot or slow cooker is large enough. Be careful that the soup doesn’t overflow. It could be smarter to assemble double the ingredient quantities and cook the 2 batches separately as the soup lasts well in the fridge or freezer.
Simple split pea soup with ham hock in the Instant Pot
- Chopping Board
- Instant Pot
- 1 lb. (454 g) split peas
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) butter
- 1 ham hock
- 32 fl. oz. (946 ml) Chicken broth, substitute with beef or vegetable broth
- ¼ teaspoon (1 g) Salt, optional, the ham hock and broth will add salt
- ⅛ teaspoon (1 g) Black pepper, 4-5 twists of the pepper grinder
- Gather the ingredients.
- Rinse the split peas in water and pick out any pebbles or other debris you see.
- Dice the onion, carrot, and celery. Peel the garlic and discard the skin. Chop the garlic.
- Set your Instant Pot to the Rice setting on Low Pressure mode.
- Melt the butter in the Instant Pot inner pot.
- Sauté the diced onions in the butter until softened, about 3 minutes.
- Add the diced carrot and celery. Sauté until softened and lightly caramelized, about 5 minutes.
- Add the chopped garlic and combine.
- Add the split peas, ham hock, broth, bay leaves, salt, and pepper to the sauté mirepoix (vegetables). Add an extra ½ cup of water (I like to use the water to rinse the remaining broth out of the carton.)
- Once the broth comes to a boil, turn off the Instant Pot.
- Screw the lid in place on the Instant Pot. Turn the steam release handle to Venting.
- Set your Instant Pot to the Slow Cook setting and adjust it to the More mode. Set the timer to 5:00 (5 hours).
- Leave the soup to cook on the Slow Cook setting. As the soup cooks, the steam release handle might splutter or hiss. This is expected.
- If you want to check on your soup, you can open the lid after 2 hours to check the peas are softening and disintegrating.
- Once the timer has finished counting down, remove the lid and stir your soup to make sure it's fully cooked. If the peas are still intact and you prefer your split pea soup creamy, set the Slow Cook setting to 1:00 (1 hour) and allow the soup to continue cooking. Repeat until your soup is cooked to your desired consistency.If you like the consistency of your soup, then it's ready to serve.If the soup is too thick, you can add some water to thin it out.
- Remove the ham hock before serving. If desired, you can shred the meat and skin on the ham hock and include it in the soup. Or you can discard the ham hock.
- Enjoy your split pea soup!
Can you make this in advance?
Yes, split pea soup stores well. You can prepare it the day before serving or the morning whenever you plan to eat it for dinner. It also stores well so you can make it ahead and eat within 2-3 days.
How to store and reheat leftovers?
Store leftover soup in an airtight container in the fridge. Reheat in the microwave for a 2-3 minutes (depending on the size of the bowl of soup) until it’s hot.
You can also reheat it on the stove (but you may need to add ¼ cup of water to avoid drying out the soup on the stove).
Stir thoroughly after reheating to restore the creamy texture.
Can you freeze it?
Yes, split pea soup freezes very well. Store it in a plastic airtight container for freezing. Defrost in the fridge overnight or in the microwave. Eat the frozen soup within 3 months to avoid freezer burn.