Smoked Duck Split Pea Soup with Swiss Chard

Smoked Duck Split Pea Soup with Swiss Chard
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Spring is here at long last, so why doesn’t it feel like it? Well, it could be in full swing where you are, but here in Canada we recently shoveled our way out of a snowstorm. I wish I could say this was a freak incident. It is not. If you grew up in Canada, you’ve had your heart broken by a late March blizzard. You’ve probably also been burned by the ever-charming April version as well. So if spring snow is par for the course for us hearty canucks, we should be fine with it, right?! No. We’re grumpy and impatient as all hell, or at least I am. The only upside I see to this bonus winter is the opportunity to squeeze a few more comfort foods into the season. Dishes like today’s Smoked Duck Split Pea Soup.

Peeled carrots on a wooden cutting board.

Split pea soup is a dish I grew up on. I’ve hated it, tolerated it, loved it, forgotten about it, and rediscovered it. We’ve lived a life, this soup and I. This soup has been a part of my life for so long because it is practical. My mom and my grandmother knew how to stretch a meal. Pea soup was just the final natural state of a holiday ham. You don’t spend that much on a roast just to get a couple of dinners and sandwiches out of it. It must be spun into another meal that will, in turn, generate its own leftovers. And if you’re my grandmother, you must pack those leftovers into repurposed ice cream tubs to punk your grandchildren.

Smoked duck breast slices on a cutting board.

The family mantra has always been “have ham bone, will simmer”. But what if you don’t have a ham bone? What if you live in a two-person household where a ham is never practical or called for? How are you supposed to get your split pea fix? Well, there are a couple of ways around this. There is, of course, the ham hock hack. It delivers the traditional hammy goodness we all know and love. And then there’s a smoked turkey leg – beloved by all those who are kosher or have sworn off pork. And, of course, there is the vegetarian option of nothing but split peas, a bouquet garni, and mirepoix

Adding chopped carrots to a large pot.

These are all valid options, great workarounds that will yield good soup. So if you choose any of these, you are on a good path. I, myself, didn’t choose any of them. Instead, I opted to experiment with a smoked duck breast and I’m not sorry I did. If smoked duck is not for you, this recipe can still work. Just ignore the bit about cubing and sautéing the duck breast and pop a hock, turkey leg, or nothing into the pot with the water and split peas. I promise, at the end of 1-2 hours, you will have a magical soup. But enough about other options, let’s talk about this option – Smoked Duck Split Pea Soup. 

Pouring water into a large pot with yellow split peas.

This soup starts as most do, with oil in a large heavy bottom pot. Once the oil is shimmering, we’re going to add diced smoked duck breast. We want to render out as much of the fat from the breast as possible. The duck should be nicely seared and on the way to crisp. Remove the duck using a slotted spoon, so you don’t scoop out any of that fat we worked so hard to render. To the pot add a diced sweet onion and a generous pinch of salt. Sauté until the onion is just translucent. Stir in carrots and celery and sauté until softened.

Bay leaves and fresh rosemary on the surface of simmering water.

This is all standard soup stuff, but here’s where things are a little different. Take the onions, celery, and carrots out of the pot using a slotted spoon. Why are we doing this? Well, it’s because split peas take quite a while to cook down to the velvety texture we all know and love. And in that time onions, celery, and even carrots can cook down to a similar mushy consistency. Carrots in particular are troublesome in this respect because their bold color can mingle with the yellow or green split peas and turn them a less than pleasant brownish shade. On top of that, a mushy mirepoix doesn’t do much for the textural experience of the finished soup.

Stirring celery, carrots, and onions into the split pea soup.

So, while the split peas get going, we’re going to leave the onions, carrots, and celery out of it. We will reintroduce them to the soup in the last 30 minutes of simmering. This will give them ample time to soften to a tender but toothsome texture. I chose to soften the veg at the beginning in order to introduce their flavor to the soup from the get-go.

Chopped Swiss Chard on a plate

Once you remove the mirepoix, add the split peas, and water, and return the duck to the pot. It might seem like you’re adding a lot of water to the pot and you are. Usually, we add about 8-10 cups of water to make a soup or stock. Here we’re looking for 12 to 13. That’s because split pea soup thickens significantly as it cooks, so this amount of water will ensure you have a soup and not a thick dip at the end of the simmering time. Keeping the soup a little loose will also prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot, which is a bonus if you tend to be an inattentive cook like me.

Smoked Duck Split Pea Soup with Swiss chard

Bring the soup up to a boil and season generously with salt. Add bay leaves and fresh rosemary and let simmer for 1 hour. At the end of 1 hour, your split peas should be mostly cooked down but not quite there. This is the time to add the onions, celery, and carrots. Once they’re in the soup, we’re going to leave it to simmer for another 30 minutes.

Smoked Duck Split Pea Soup with Swiss chard

While the soup is on its final simmer, we’re going to prep the Swiss chard. I love adding this Swiss chard to this Smoked Duck Split Pea Soup because it’s the perfect finishing touch in terms of flavor and appearance. Let’s face it, split pea soup is not the most attractive dish on the block, so adding blushing sautéed red Swiss chard stalks to the top, really amps up its appearance. And the Swiss chard is finished with a splash of white wine vinegar, giving this soup the acid hit it needs to really sing. I like to finish my soup with a sprinkling of celery leaves – the truly unsung hero of garnishes.

And that’s everything you need to know about this Smoked Duck Split Pea Soup with Swiss Chard. A vibrant and surprisingly bright take on the comfort food classic.

Enjoy!

Smoked Duck Split Pea Soup with Swiss Chard

Smoked Duck Split Pea Soup with Swiss Chard

This Smoked Duck Split Pea Soup features golden yellow split peas simmered with smoked duck breast and topped with sautéed Swiss chard kissed with vinegar.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Course Main Course, Soup
Servings 8

Equipment

  • 1 Large pot
  • 1 Large skillet

Ingredients
  

  • 4 tbsp olive oil divided
  • 2 smoked duck breasts diced
  • 1 sweet onion diced
  • 3 carrots peeled and chopped
  • 3 stalks celery chopped
  • 900g (2lbs) yellow split peas **
  • 12-13 cups water
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 5 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 head red Swiss chard
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • celery leaves for sprinkling

Instructions
 

  • Pour half of the olive oil into a large heavy bottom pot over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the duck and sauté until seared and lightly crisped. Remove the duck with a slotted spoon and set aside.
    4 tbsp olive oil, 2 smoked duck breasts
  • Add the onions to the pot with a sprinkling of salt. Sauté until the onions are just softened. Add the carrots and celery and sauté until they are softened as well. Remove the onions, carrots, and celery from the pot using a slotted spoon. Set them aside.
    1 sweet onion, 3 carrots, 3 stalks celery
  • Pour the split peas into the pot and toss to coat them in the oil and duck fat. Pour in the water and return the duck to the pot. Add the bay leaves and rosemary and bring everything up to a boil. Liberally salt the soup and turn the heat down to low. Simmer the soup for an hour, stirring occasionally. ***
    900g (2lbs) yellow split peas **, 12-13 cups water, 3 bay leaves, 5 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • Once the hour is up, return the carrots, onions, and celery to the soup. Simmer for 30 minutes more.
  • When the soup is in its last 20 minutes of simmering time, take the Swiss chard and remove the stalks. Chop the leaves into broad strips and chop the stalks.
    1 head red Swiss chard
  • Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the remaining olive oil and the stalks to the pan along with a generous sprinkling of salt. Sauté until the stalks are softened. Stir in the garlic and the leaves and sauté until they wilt. Pour in the vinegar, toss to coat, and take the greens off the heat.
    2 cloves garlic, 2 tbsp butter, ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • When the soup is done, taste and adjust the seasoning. Remove and discard the bay leaves and the rosemary stems. Spoon the soup into bowls and garnish each with the Swiss chard and celery leaves. Serve immediately.
    celery leaves

Notes

** If you would prefer to use green split peas, please do. They will not alter the recipe. 
*** If the soup gets too thick feel free to add more water. Make sure you taste and adjust the salt whenever you add more water. 
Keyword duck, split pea, swiss chard

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