Split pea soup seems to remind many people of the holidays.
The base is famously flavored with leftover ham (and ham bone), and a warm, smoky bowl of the stuff is just the ticket when there’s a chill outside. But that ain’t my story.
For me, split pea soup travels my taste buds straight to Melrose Place.
Not the drama-filled soap opera from the ’90s. Actual Melrose Place, an offshoot of Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.
Yes, while many others envision slurping lush split pea broth as they patiently wait for Santa’s arrival on a snowy evening, or perhaps in the days after the Easter Bunny has laid his eggs (or whatever it is that he does), the split pea soup of my dreams sits firmly within the bustling Melrose District.
And it was in the general vicinity of this landmark, where vintage high-end fashion meets about a million brunch venues, that I encountered one of the very best bowls of soup I’ve ever had.
It was 2011, and I was residing in Hollywood, California. My mom had flown across the country for a visit. This meant I had to sift through a sea of restaurant menus in order to find something that would suit her picky palate.
We landed on Blu Jam Café, a southern-inspired breakfast eatery with a Cajun twist. I had my heart set on something from the sunrise menu, but I noticed my mom eyeing the lunch lineup.
She went with the vegan split pea soup.
Neither of my parents eat red meat, so I knew this ham-free version would fit the bill as a satisfying meal in her book. I had never embarked upon a quest to see the bottom of a whole bowl of split pea myself, but was always drawn to the savory aroma when my mom would heat up a container in our North Carolina home.
She offered a sample, so I tried a rich, silky-smooth spoonful. The next thing I knew, I had decided to pair my pancakes with a side of split pea soup.
I never could have imagined this cheery hipster diner would feed me a dish that soothed my soul and stood out so starkly from all the other food that I was used to in the bustling California culinary scene, but Blu Jam did the damn thing.
And from that West Coast memory, this split pea soup recipe was born.
I wanted to steer clear of using the traditional ham, while including a protein that still bulked things up a bit. Enter: deliciously juicy chicken breast.
In the spirit of starting from scratch (as opposed to using pre-cooked meat or roasted chicken leftovers from the other night), I sear chicken pieces in the bottom of my pot to start. They’re set aside while the aromatics – onions, celery, sweet bell pepper, and so on – soften to avoid overcooking, but the brown bits they leave behind provide ample flavor all the way through to the end.
In my mind, no herb goes better with chicken than rosemary (I blame my dad’s signature rosemary roasted chicken with lemon and garlic for that). The leaves are sturdier than those of tender herbs like parsley or basil, so it simmers alongside the other components instead of being added in at the end.
As for the split peas themselves, here are the highlights: these little cuties are technically hulled and split field peas grown specifically for drying. They don’t require any pre-soaking, which gives these fiber-packed beads a quick cooking time.
They’re slightly sweet, and have a creamy texture that lends itself well to pureeing. Blending half the broth isn’t necessary, but it creates a thicker consistency, and ultimately, what I deem a better texture as far as the split pea soup experience goes.
Trust me when I say this is one heck of a nod to that delicious Hollywood brunch.Print
Fresh, piney rosemary gives an herby lift to this hearty split pea soup, simmered with savory aromatics and juicy chunks of chicken.
- 2 cups cubed chicken breast (about 12 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt, divided, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided, plus more to taste
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 large bell pepper (any color), diced
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups dried green split peas, rinsed under cold water
- 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons minced chives
- Season the chicken all over with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. In a large Dutch oven, melt the butter with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a plate.
- Add the remaining oil to the Dutch oven and reduce the heat to medium. Add the carrots, celery, onion, and bell pepper. Cook until the onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, along with the rosemary, garlic, split peas, and broth. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and simmer until the peas are tender, about 20 minutes.
- Transfer about half of the soup to a food processor or blender, and pulse until smooth. Return the pureed soup to the pot, stir in the chicken (along with all of its juices from the plate), and cook for 5 more minutes to make sure the chicken is heated and cooked all the way through. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.
- Divide the soup among bowls, garnish with chives, and serve hot.
- Prep Time: 25 minutes
- Cook Time: 35 minutes
- Category: Chicken
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Soup
Keywords: chicken, split pea, soup, peas
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Prep and Sear the Chicken
Cube and season the chicken breast with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
In a large Dutch oven or large stockpot, melt the butter with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. The butter adds richness, while the olive oil has a higher smoke point that helps to prevent burning.
Brown the chicken on all sides, for about 5 minutes total. Searing the outside locks in all the juices, and the chicken will finish cooking through when you simmer it in the final mixture in the last 5 minutes of cooking.
It will leave tasty brown bits (known as fond) behind in the pan, which will all come up when you add the stock, adding delicious flavor to the dish.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a plate. It will release some juice as it rests, which you’ll want to add back into the soup for additional flavor. Be sure to reserve it.
Step 2 – Chop and Soften the Veggies
Peel the carrots, and then dice them along with the celery and bell pepper. Chop the onion and rosemary, and mince the garlic and chives.
Add the remaining oil to the Dutch oven and reduce the heat to medium. Add the carrots, celery, onion, and bell pepper. Cook until the onions begin to soften, for about 5 minutes. The mixture will be very fragrant.
Step 3 – Stir in the Peas and Broth
Thoroughly rinse the peas under cold water to remove any dirt particles or debris. They don’t need to be soaked ahead of time.
Stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, as well as the rosemary, garlic, split peas, and broth. Bring the mixture to a boil.
Step 4 – Puree Half the Soup
Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and simmer the mixture until the peas are tender, for about 20 minutes.
You can also use an immersion blender right in the pot; just pulse on low until your desired consistency is reached. You want the soup to thicken slightly, while retaining plenty of chunky texture from the vegetables.
Step 5 – Stir in the Chicken and Serve
Return the pureed portion of the soup to the pot, and stir in the chicken along with all of its juices from the plate. Cook for 5 more minutes to make sure the chicken is fully heated and cooked through.
The internal temperature of the largest piece should register 165°F when checked with a meat thermometer, or you can cut the biggest one open to check for doneness.
Season to taste with additional salt and pepper if necessary.
Divide the soup among bowls, garnish with the chives, and serve hot.
More Split Peas, Please!
If you happen to have cooked chicken leftovers tucked away in your fridge (such as plain tenders you threw in the pressure cooker), feel free to save yourself a step and swap them in.
Or leave the chicken (and butter) out entirely for a vegan version of this split pea soup, like the one my mom and I first fell in love with. Use thick, chunky pieces of potato instead, added in and cooked until tender along with the peas, to keep things hearty and achieve that uber-velvety mouthfeel.
For a fully made-from-scratch version, reach for this slow cooker chicken stock instead of using a store-bought product. It’s my best recommendation for imparting a really intense, deep flavor.
My beloved split pea soup from Los Angeles was garnished with wedges of toasted sourdough. Croutons for you, or no? Share your ideal soup toppers in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
For more chicken-centric soups, cozy up to these recipes next:
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Jennifer Swartvagher on July 13, 2015. Last updated on December 18, 2021.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”