Driving in the Santa Barbara area, you’ve probably passed through Buellton, which most of the movie Sideways was shot in. Aside from that, Buellton has its purported claim to fame with their split pea soup. Though I’ve never eaten at Andersen’s Pea Soup, it’s one billboard I always remember. Split pea soup, by its look, is probably one of the ugliest soups ever created, but it certainly has a lot of personality. Dried split peas are boiled for under an hour, fortified with the smoky flavor from a ham hock and served in baby-food form – I love it. On our recent trip to Chicago, Jeni and I were having breakfast at a little cafe and I was surprised to see the swampy green mush on the menu. Versus ordering the usual eggs and pork-product, I decided to go for the split pea soup and it was pretty good. Had I not encountered this on the menu, I wouldn’t be writing about this soup. I’m glad I did because this was super easy to make and it turned out wonderful. Jeni likes to dip bread in her soup so I decided to get a little creative and instead of using just bread, I added shrimp toast and Korean roasted seaweed, also known as laver. You’ve seen laver before – those multi-pack seaweed packages for like $2 at Asian markets. Tasty and MSG-y! The shrimp toast is the same exact recipe I used for my take on Jon & Vinny’s version served at Son of A Gun.
Ingredients for split pea soup
2 packages of dried split peas (about 16 oz. total)
1 smoked ham hock
2 cans of chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 onion diced
2-3 cloves of garlic
4-6 dried Thai chiles (or chili de Arbol)
3-4 sprigs of thyme
2-3 bay leaves
2-3 teaspoons hondashi (Japanese bonito powder – optional)
water (in case peas dry out)
Ingredients for shrimp toast
1 lb. of large shrimp (16-20 per pound size; peeled and de-veined)
Loaf of white bread (softer the better)
1 tablespoon of bottled fish sauce (to taste)
One egg (whites only)
1 tablespoon of lemongrass stalks (grated)
2 pieces of sliced ginger (grated)
1 clove garlic (grated)
1/2 tablespoon of corn starch (or as needed)
Salt & white pepper to taste (not black pepper, looks ugly)
Making the Split Pea Soup
(1) If you have the time, pre-soak the beans for at least 2 hours, but it isn’t necessary. In a medium sized pot or dutch oven, sauté the garlic and onions for a few minutes. A slight burn to the garlic won’t hurt it. Add the dried chiles, bay leaves and fresh thyme – stir for 2-3 minutes.
(2) Add the dried split peas in, mixing everything around so all the peas get some of that garlic-herb love. Add both cans of chicken broth in and make sure there’s at least 1″ of liquid above the split pea line. On high heat, bring the peas to a boil and then keep it on low-medium for the next 45 minutes. Do not cover with the lid or you’re soup with disappear into air. Check back periodically to see that the peas have not absorbed all the liquid. The second time I made it, I cooked the peas on too high of heat and lost all the liquid. Simply add water in or another can of chicken broth. Salt and pepper to taste and add 2-3 teaspoons of the hondashi Japanese bonito powder. This is something I like to add to my soups to give it a boost of umami. Once the peas are soft enough, you’re done.
(3) Remove all the chiles and herbs from the soup and pour everything into a blender (I use my trusty Vita-prep blender). A food processor won’t work for this because you want this to look like pureéd baby food. Pureé everything for a few minutes until you’ve got a smooth, velvety consistency, adding water as needed to dilute the soup. It’s best to blend this immediately off the stove because if you need to re-season or add more water, the heat will incorporate everything much faster. Done.
Making the Shrimp Paste
(1) After you peel and de-vein your shrimp, toss a generous amount of kosher salt on the shrimp and wash it off in water to remove the shrimp cologne and also refresh the shrimp. Roughly chop the shrimp to make it easier for your food processor. Before you make the paste, have a small fry pan on low heat so you can test the shrimp paste out.
(2) Toss the shrimp in the food processor with the egg white, corn starch, fish sauce, a few pinches of lemongrass, 1/2 teaspoon of grated garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of grated ginger, a few pinches of sugar, 2 teaspoons of oil and S&P. The corn starch is used to make the shrimp stick together and the oil gives the shrimp a nice sheen. PULSE the shrimp, do not turn the food processor fully on. About 7-8 pulses should be good.
(3) Now take a small spoonful and fry it up. Does it need more fish sauce? More S&P? The final taste should have a nice balance of fish sauce, sweetness from the sugar and hints of garlic/ginger/lemongrass. And the paste should stick together from the corn starch – if not, add a little more and mix it in by hand. Just make sure the paste isn’t salty!
Preparing the Shrimp Toast
Son of A Gun finishes off their shrimp toast with a little butter and pan fries it to give it a nice buttery, crispiness. Last time, I toasted bread in the broiler and then fried only the side with the shrimp paste. It was good, but adding butter to the pan tastes way better. In a skillet, add a thin slice of butter with a tiny bit of olive oil. Fry shrimp paste side first until golden brown, flip over and fry the other side until golden brown as well. Slice into wedges and plate as shown. Garnish with some chopped up Korean seaweed and serve.
Hope you enjoy this and thanks for reading.