Monday, November 9, 2015

Smoked Pork Cheek Split Pea Soup

Oliver and Jodi at North Woods Ranch surprised me with these smoked pork cheeks they just received back from the smokehouse.  I've had smoked jowls, but never just the cheek muscle. 
North Woods Ranch Smoked Pork Cheeks
Looking them over, the cheeks were a beautiful mahogany color, striped with lighter bands of intramuscular fat. The blend of meat and fat reminded me of smoked pork necks, my favorite cut for making stewed collards or beans.  The cheeks were dense and meaty and seemed to call out for a warming dish like split pea soup.
Split pea soup is often made with broth from a boiled ham bone or a smoked ham hock.  The cheek seemed to be a perfect blend of the ham bone's meatiness and the unctuous, gelatinous nature of the hock.
Split pea soup is very simple to make: stew the meat, then add the dried peas until both meat and peas are tender.  To add a bit more flavor, I like to chop up and brown an onion in a bit of lard first, then pour in a pint of pork stock.  Add the smoked cheeks and gently simmer for an hour until the jowls are beginning to become tender.
After an hour add a pound of dried split peas to the pot.  If needed, add cold water to cover the peas completely.  I like to let the peas cook for another hour so they're collapsing into an thick soup, with the pork cheeks falling apart into meaty threads.
If you like the soup on the thinner side, add more water or stock to get your desired consistency.  And for an especially cold day, warm up with a bowl of split pea soup topped with a farm fresh poached egg!
Recipe at a Glance:
2 Smoked Pork Cheeks
1 lb Dried Split Peas
1 Pint Pork Stock
1 Large Onion, Chopped
Plenty of Black Pepper
1 Tbsp Lard

In a soup pot, heat the lard to medium-high heat.  Add the chopped onion and saute for 6-8 minutes, until the onion is softened and beginning to brown.

Pour in the stock and scrape up the bottom of the pan to deglaze it.  Add the pork cheeks and cover the pot.  Keep the liquid at a gentle simmer for one hour.  After an hour, stir in the split peas and give the stock several generous grinds of black pepper.  Simmer for another hour.  The soup is done when the peas are soft and creamy and the meat is falling apart. Taste the soup and add additional salt if needed.

For a richer dish, top each bowl with a hard boiled egg and more pepper.