Easy Split Peasy

Mmmm, sludge.

Mmmm, sludge.

I know it’s technically spring, but around these parts, it’s still split-pea weather.

We had an all too brief dalliance with sunshine and lollipops a week or two ago, but now, nothing but gray and rain and that deep chill that rises up from the ground through your boots and permeates your entire being from the inside out.

Which is just my way of saying it’s cold and wet and I would like a big bowl of soup, please.

Lately that means split pea soup. Lots of it. This version is super hearty and comforting, guaranteed to punch the chill right in the face.

(Of course, in the last couple of days that I’ve been working on this post, the forecast has turned to sun for the next week. Usually spring is a gloomy, sodden affair around here, so I thought I was safe posting a recipe for soup. Stupid Oregon. Although I suppose I should be happy for the unexpected sun.)

I first started making this dish something like four years ago, based on a recipe from a special edition on soups and stews by Cook’s Illustrated, back when I used to buy magazines printed on actual paper.

I followed that recipe pretty faithfully until I misplaced it somewhere, and had to wing it based on my own pretty faulty memory, which is to say I basically made it up on the spot because I could not for the life of me remember the split pea to liquid ratio. It came out surprisingly delicious.

What this little experience taught me was to go ahead and take the plunge. When I was just a wee lass, I spent many many days at the pool before I ever worked up the courage to jump off the diving board. I knew how to swim. I could hold my breath like a little fish. But that diving board was scary. Until one day my friend did it, and basically shamed me into trying. So I climbed up there, all nerves and butterflies, and took the plunge. My instincts kicked in and before I could even register what was happening, I popped back up to the surface. My body knew what to do even if my brain didn’t.

I know, deep thoughts, right?

Up until I lost that recipe for split pea soup, I tended to stick pretty closely to recipes as written, which I culled from only the most trusted of sources. Then I would scroll through the comments looking for reviews and helpful hints. If the recipe employed new techniques, I would research them ad infinitum before trying them.

But I had been cooking fairly frequently for several years by then, and reading up on all sorts of cookery, and I suppose subconsciously absorbing the fundamentals in my own way. It helped that the special edition on soups included a primer on how to make soup.

I guess I knew more than I realized, and truly, soup is pretty hard to mess up.

So armed with my working knowledge of split pea soup, and soup in general, I whipped up a batch, tasting and tweaking along the way. I sort of bumbled my way through, but my body knew what to do. I have since found that Cook’s Illustrated recipe again, but I never use it anymore. Instead I make my bumble version, fine-tuning it a bit every time. This is the latest version.

Easy Split Peasy

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Recipe notes: This is a very easy recipe to make, with very basic ingredients. But it does, however, take a while for the split peas to magically transform from tasteless little BBs into crazy goodness, at least a full hour. If you try to cut it short, the results are somewhat meh. Believe me I’ve tried. Some stuff just takes a while to cook, that’s all there is to it. So if you’re planning to make this for dinner, it’s wise to get an early start. For those who work, it’s probably best to make this on the weekend, when you have a bit more leeway in the schedule. Waiting for a pot of this after a long day at work is just asking for a hangry meltdown. There are all sorts of ways to make split pea, but the one true method, is to cook the soup at a relatively high heat until the split peas pretty much fall apart – no blending required. This also turns the soup into a delicious, thick sludge that turns almost solid in the fridge. Of course, not everyone is as fond of sludge as we are, but it’s easy enough to adjust the consistency with a bit of extra water and seasoning. In fact, that is the one big variable of this recipe – you can get very different consistencies depending on how high the heat is, and whether or not the pot is covered. So even if you follow the instructions to a T (although the instructions are none too precise), the consistency can still vary quite a bit. It’s hard to predict sometimes, but easy to fix. If your soup is too thick after an hour, simply add some water and salt to taste. If it’s too soupy, just turn up the heat, keep the lid off and let some of that liquid evaporate. I should mention that this version calls for a fair amount of veggies, more than most recipes, because, well, I like veggies. Also, this version has no ham or bacon because I rarely have them on hand. I use bouillon instead to add a bit of flavor, or when I have it, bacon fat, which I keep in the freezer.

Ingredients

Oil, bacon fat, butter, coconut oil, whatever floats your boat

2 small onions (about 1 3/4 cup to 2 cups chopped)

4-6 medium carrots (about 1 3/4 cup to 2 cups chopped)

5-7 stalks celery (about 1 3/4 cup to 2 cups chopped)

1 tsp salt

1 large russet potato

2 cups split peas, pick through and rinsed (I think a 16 ounce bag is technically equivalent to 2 1/4 cup of split peas. Go ahead and throw in the extra ¼ cup if you don’t want a weird amount of peas left over. I buy them from the bulk bin, so it’s easy enough to just measure out 2 cups.)

10 cups water

4 teaspoons chicken or veggie bouillon (I tend to use bouillon instead of broth because, I don’t know, I just got into the habit of it, OK? Plus it keeps a long time. I use Better Than Bouillon because it ranked well in a Cook’s Illustrated taste test. If I could get it together, I would make my own broth, but yeah, let’s be honest, that ain’t happening any time soon. If you would rather use broth, use 6 cups water and 4 cups broth and nix the bouillon.)

2 tablespoons vinegar

Directions

Get an early start, say 4 if you want to eat dinner by 6. Does anyone eat dinner at 6? I can’t seem to get dinner on the table before 7:30, and I’m a stay at home mama.

Chop the carrots, celery and onions. Put in a dutch oven along with your fat of choice and 1 tsp of salt. Sauté until the vegetables soften and get a bit of color, which takes a while, at least it does on my ancient electric stovetop. Meanwhile, chop the potatoes and boil the water.

Once the veggies are ready, dump in the 10 cups of hot water, bouillon, split peas and potatoes. Bring to boil, then turn down a bit and let that baby simmer pretty hard for at least an hour (more like an hour and 20 minutes on our funky old electric stove). Do not cover. Give it a good stir every so often to make sure the soup doesn’t stick or burn to the bottom.

If it’s too thick, add some water and adjust the seasoning. If it’s too thin, let it bubble away a while longer.

Add vinegar when it’s done. When is it done? When it’s thick and creamy and tastes divine.

Ladle into serving bowls and give that bad boy a good squirt of sriracha, if you are into that sort of thing.

Ketchup-less BBQ Sauce + Easy Slow Cooker Pulled Chicken

Bug is officially terrible! He just turned two, and you know what that means – we are in for it.

He’s already been a bit of a handful, so when I was planning his birthday party, I wanted something quick and easy I could throw together in between temper tantrums and melt downs.

At first I was thinking homemade pizza because that is always a crowd-pleaser, but I didn’t want to do any real cooking the day of, and opening and shutting a hot oven with little ones running around didn’t seem like the best idea.

I considered spaghetti briefly, since the theme of the party was Curious George and he has been known to polish off a few bowls of the stuff, but it seemed like it would be a hassle to cook it all in advance then warm it all up after the guests arrived. Then I thought …Crockpot!

What better way to cook for a big crowd ahead of time, yet make sure the food will still be piping hot when you finally get around to serving it, whenever that may be? Oh, and with minimal prep, and no monitoring needed during cooking, which is awesome since you kinda forgot about it after that wee drinky drink?

Up until now I’ve mostly used my crockpot for making big batches of beans, but I’ve been meaning to try a recipe for pulled chicken that I came across on thekitchn.

So before the party, I did a test batch with homemade BBQ sauce and it was totally the bomb! Plus super easy!

On the day of, I was all sweaty and crazy trying to get ready for the party, so I just skipped the homemade and threw in Bull’s-Eye Original BBQ Sauce instead – still totally the bomb!

I ended up researching two different recipes for this dish – homemade BBQ sauce and slow cooker pulled chicken.

For the homemade BBQ sauce, I checked out Cooks Illustrated, Martha Stewart, Pioneer Woman, Homesick Texan and Ina Garten by way of smitten kitchen. But I went with the CI one, just because it seemed like a good basic version to start with. And boy howdy, it was about to become my go-to recipe, until I realized just how much sugar is in ketchup. The CI version starts with 1 full cup of ketchup, to which you add another 5 tablespoons of molasses! Oi!

Warning, math ahead, skip to the end of this graph if you just want the summary: 1 tablespoon ketchup has 4 grams of sugar, which is about 1 teaspoon sugar. There are 16 tablespoons in a cup, so 16 teaspoons of sugar in 1 cup of ketchup. There’s 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon, so about 5 tablespoons of sugar in that cup of ketchup. Then you go and add another 5 tablespoons of molasses. That brings you to about 10 tablespoons of sweetener for 1 1/2 cups of BBQ sauce. Of course it’s not like you would scarf down 1 1/2 cups of BBQ sauce in a single sitting, but you could easily inhale 1/2 cup without thinking about it (well, I could, don’t judge) which would be just over 3 tablespoons of sugar, or 9 teaspoons. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar intake to no more than 6 teaspoons a day for women! (OK technically, in the above example, we don’t know how much of the sugars in the ketchup are naturally present in the tomatoes and how much are added in refined form. The manufacturer does not have to break that info down. The AHA recommendation is for added refined sugars, not for the sugars naturally found in food. But 9 teaspoons is pretty high, though, especially since you are probably getting a whole lot more from other sources throughout your day.)

Summary: ketchup has a lot of sugar! Anyway, the CI recipe was also kind of fiddly, what with blending the onions then straining them through a sieve, so it was back to the drawing board.

So I started looking for another version that doesn’t use ketchup as the base, which turned out to be a bit more challenging. It seems like a lot of “homemade” BBQ sauce recipes I came across call for ketchup, and often a mix of other condiments, like hoisin or mustard or weirdly, barbecue sauce (how meta, barbecue sauce made from barbecue sauce to which you add ingredients found in barbecue sauce).

Hey, I’m not like militant about homemade or anything, but I do think it would be tough to get any sort of consistency if your recipe calls for ingredients that can taste drastically different from product to product. So I tried to avoid recipes that went heavy on the condiments too.

I finally found one ketchup-less recipe on the kitchn and decided to give it a go. Instead of ketchup, the recipe starts with an 8 oz can of tomato sauce, which has about 2 teaspoon of sugars, and a tablespoon of tomato paste, which has about 1/4 teaspoon of sugars. To this you add 1 tablespoon of molasses and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, for a total of 4 tablespoons or so of sugars per 1 1/2 cup of sauce, which seems a lot more reasonable than the whopping 10 tablespoons in the CI recipe.

Of course I tweaked the recipe a bit, I just can’t seem to help myself. I ended up using one 14.5 oz can of diced tomato (which I always have on hand) in place of the 8 oz can of tomato sauce (which I never have on hand). Nixed the water, nixed the cumin, added chipotle powder, added apple cider vinegar, subbed soy for Worcestershire, and, errmmm added a bit more sweetener (yes, hypocritical, aren’t we?). I may tweak it a bit more next time to be closer to the proportions in the CI version and to get rid of the honey mustard, but I’m pretty stoked with this not-too-sweet version.

Whew! Then I turned my attention to slow cooker pulled chicken.

It seemed like a lot of the recipes call for some prep work on front end, which I’m not totally opposed to, but not totally for either.

The kitchn version calls for sautéing onions on the stovetop first, then browning the chicken, before adding both with the BBQ sauce to the slow cooker to stew for 4 hours. Then you remove the chicken, shred it, reduce the BBQ sauce on the stovetop, and add the shredded chicken back to the thickened sauce.

But I am all about short cuts.

Since I was making homemade sauce, which started with sautéing onions, I didn’t see the point of repeating this step before adding everything to the slow cooker. And then, because I am lazy yet weirdly motivated to find justification for my slacker ways, I learned on CI that browning meat before adding it to a slow cooker just makes it more difficult to shred the meat when it’s done. Ha! So I skipped that step too.

So what I ended up doing was make the BBQ sauce, add raw chicken tenders to the slow cooker, dump sauce over the whole shebang, cook for 4 hours on low, shred. Boom. Crazy easy, crazy good.

The next time I made the dish, on the day of the party, I skipped the homemade sauce part and went straight for the glory: chicken, sauce straight from the bottle, slow cooker, shred, bam. Near instant gratification.

Ok so there was one peculiarity that I need to note. The BBQ sauce in first batch I made, with chicken tenders from Trader Joe’s, turned out nice and thick. I didn’t need to reduce the sauce as called for in the original pulled chicken recipe.

But the BBQ sauce in the second batch I made, with chicken tenders from Fred Meyer, came out watery, even though the sauce started out really thick. It occurred to me that the tenders might be plumped, that is, injected with salt water, to keep the meat nice and juicy no matter how mistreated or overcooked. I didn’t have time to reduce the sauce, hungry folks were hovering, so I just went ahead and shredded the chicken in the watery sauce and mixed it all up and it was fine, if a touch soupy.

The moral of the story is if you want to avoid the extra step of reducing the sauce, buy chicken that has not been “enhanced”. Or, cook the chicken in broth or water in the slow cooker, then drain the liquid and add the BBQ sauce at the end. Or, if you just want to skip the slow cooker thing entirely, shred a rotisserie chicken then add BBQ sauce. I am all about options.

Ketchup-less BBQ Sauce

olive oil

1/2 onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder

½ teaspoon chili powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 14.5 oz can diced tomato, blended (about 2 cups)

4 tablespoon molasses

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon honey mustard

Heat a splash of olive oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until soft. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic turns fragrant. Add the tomato paste, chipotle powder and chili powder and sauté a bit to bloom the flavor (I don’t know, that’s what they always say on CI!)

Add the blended tomatoes and remaining ingredients. Stir until combined and heated through. Adjust seasonings to your taste.

Optional: If you want a smooth sauce, transfer to a blender or use an immersion blender to blend. I am all about rustic, so I skip this step. Add more water, a tablespoon or two at a time, if you prefer a thinner sauce.

Easy slow cooker pulled chicken with homemade BBQ sauce

1-2 pounds chicken tenders (not injected with saltwater)

1 ½ cup homemade BBQ sauce

salt

Make BBQ as listed above. Put chicken in the slow cooker, sprinkle with salt. Dump BBQ sauce over. Cook on low for 4 hours. Shred chicken. Serve on buns with coleslaw, or don’t, whatever floats your boat.

Easy slow cooker pulled chicken with bottled BBQ sauce

1-2 pounds chicken tenders (not injected with saltwater)

1 ½ cup bottled BBQ sauce

salt

Put chicken in the slow cooker, sprinkle with salt. Dump BBQ sauce over. Cook on low for 4 hours. Shred chicken. Serve on buns with coleslaw, or don’t, whatever floats your boat.