Ham and Bean Soup

A rich and hearty soup that is undeniably satisfying.

Ham and bean soup

Serious Eats / Liz Voltz

Why It Works

  • Sweating the aromatics first then adding them back later ensures they don't cook to a pulp and provides texture to the finished soup.
  • Cooking the beans directly in the soup contributes to a thick, creamy consistency. 
  • Simmering the ham hocks for an extended period deeply flavors the soup and yields tender meat.

Ham and bean soup, made with white beans and pork, goes by many names: ham bone soup, navy bean soup, and Senate soup (the latter famously thickened with mashed potatoes) to name a few. Whatever you call it, countless versions abound. Some are brothy and keep the beans more or less intact, while others veer into creamy territory as the beans break down into the soup. My version borrows from both—combining aromatic vegetables, tender whole and puréed navy beans, fresh and dried herbs, and smoked ham hocks—to yield a comforting stew-like soup that’s packed with layers of flavor and texture. 

Recipes for ham and bean soup run the gamut in terms of the type of white bean used, with navy, great northern, and cannellini all common. Ultimately, the bean you choose greatly influences the finished consistency. Out of the three varieties, cannellini and great northern beans retained their structure most, producing a soup with visible, prominent whole beans. Once blended, great northern beans, which have the firmest flesh of the three, yielded a soup with a slightly coarse and grainy texture. On the other hand, cannellini beans produced a creamier soup, but couldn’t hold a candle against my preferred choice—Navy beans, which have the softest flesh, break down the most, and give way to the richest, creamiest soup of the bunch. 

Ham & bean soup in a ceramic bowl.

Serious Eats / Liz Voltz

To start, I opt for the quick soaking method and skip the tricks for speeding up the bean-tenderization time like adding baking soda to the pot—the ham hocks have to cook for a long time anyway, rendering a bean-cooking shortcut moot. They'll be cooked perfectly by the time the ham hocks are ready. While the beans soak, I sweat a medley of onion, carrots, celery, and garlic until softened to draw out their moisture and flavor. Once cooked, I scrape the vegetables into a bowl for later (this way they’ll add texture to the soup and remain tender, instead of becoming mushy, as everything simmers). Meaty, smoked ham hocks go into the pot next, along with the drained beans, thyme, parsley, bay leaf, and water. I keep the lid on for most of the cooking time to prevent the liquid from evaporating and reducing.

Once the beans are soft and tender, I reserve a portion of the beans, fish out the ham hocks and herbs, then blend a portion into a purée, which will contribute to the soup’s creamy consistency. An immersion blender makes quick work of it but a countertop blender will get the job done too. To finish, I stir in the reserved vegetables, beans, and meat from the hocks and let it all simmer together until the soup thickens and almost resembles a stew.

Finished with minced parsley leaves and freshly ground black pepper, this rich, hearty soup is undeniably satisfying. However, I’d argue it’s even better the next day. An overnight stint in the refrigerator will thicken it up quite a bit, making it even creamier than before.

Recipe Facts

2.5

(2)

Cook: 4 hrs
Soaking Time: 60 mins
Total: 5 hrs
Serves: 6 to 8 servings

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Ingredients

  • 1 pound (450g) dried navy beans

  • 5 quarts (4.7L) water, divided

  • Kosher salt

  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 large yellow onion (12 ounces; 340g), roughly chopped

  • 2 small carrots (6 ounces; 170g), peeled and roughly chopped

  • 2 celery ribs (5 1/2 ounces; 155g), roughly chopped

  • 2 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped

  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme

  • 2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, plus finely chopped parsley leaves and tender stems for garnish

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 2 1/2 pounds (about 2 large; 1.1kg) smoked ham hocks

  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. In a 4-quart saucier, combine beans and 3 quarts (2.8L) water; season with salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat, cover, and let soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse beans; set aside.

    Beans soaking in a saucier.

    Serious Eats / Liz Voltz

  2. Meanwhile, in a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, carrots, and celery, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 60 seconds. Transfer vegetables to a small heatproof bowl; set aside.

    Diced, cooked vegetables in a metal bowl.

    Serious Eats / Liz Voltz

  3. In the same Dutch oven, add remaining 2 quarts (1.9L) water, along with thyme, parsley, bay leaf, and ham hocks. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cover and cook until ham hocks are tender, about 1 hour.

    Ham hock and herbs boiling.

    Serious Eats / Liz Voltz

  4. Stir in beans and return to a gentle simmer, adjusting the heat if needed. Cover and cook, stirring halfway through, until beans are completely tender and meat is falling off the bones, about 2 hours. Discard thyme, parsley, and bay leaf. Using tongs, transfer ham hocks to a cutting board and set aside until cool enough to handle, about 20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer 2 1/2 cups beans to a medium heatproof bowl; set aside.

    Ham hock and navy beans resting on a cutting board.

    Serious Eats / Liz Voltz

  5. Once ham hocks are cool, roughly chop meat using a sharp knife; discard skin, bones, and fat. Set aside.

    Chopped ham hock.

    Serious Eats / Liz Voltz

  6. Using an immersion blender, blend soup until smooth (if using a countertop blender, blend in batches, if necessary, and start blending at low speed before increasing to high, then return pureed soup to the pot). Add reserved beans, meat, vegetables back to pot, stirring to combine. Return to a gentle simmer, then cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and ham is heated through, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

    Stirring ham & bean soup to combine.

    Serious Eats / Liz Voltz

  7. Divide soup among warmed bowls and sprinkle with parsley and pepper.

    A bowl of ham & bean soup garnished with parsley.

    Serious Eats / Liz Voltz

Special Equipment

4-quart saucier, large Dutch oven, immersion blender or countertop blender

Make-Ahead and Storage

The soup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months.  The soup will thicken after being refrigerated. If reheating, thin as needed with water to achieve desired consistency.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
589 Calories
24g Fat
42g Carbs
51g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6 to 8
Amount per serving
Calories 589
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 24g 31%
Saturated Fat 8g 38%
Cholesterol 125mg 42%
Sodium 297mg 13%
Total Carbohydrate 42g 15%
Dietary Fiber 10g 37%
Total Sugars 5g
Protein 51g
Vitamin C 6mg 31%
Calcium 158mg 12%
Iron 5mg 28%
Potassium 1340mg 29%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)