Tuesday, January 29, 2013

U.S. Senate Ham and Bean Soup

My version of the famous ham and bean soup, made with a ham hock or ham bone stock, a mixture of veggies and Navy pea beans, based on the one served at the U.S. Senate Restaurant every day.

Senate Ham and Bean Soup

The soup photos I ended up with for my post don't really give justice to the beauty of this soup, and of course, the soup was long gone before I uploaded the shots I took. I can assure you of one thing though. This soup is divinely delicious! It was gone in no time at our house and I was left with that wish I had more feeling.

You've all heard of it before of course - the famous ham and bean soup based on the one on the menu at the Senate every day. Like any legendary food, there is debate over who should be credited with creating it. One story attributes it to Senator Fred Dubois of Idaho, whose version includes mashed potatoes. Another credits Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota, whose recipe does not include the potatoes, but adds braised onion. I sort of combined the best of the two with a few of my own twists, to create this version.

Senate bean soup is made with navy pea beans, rather than other white beans such as the northern beans. Though I have, typically, I am finding that with the low and slow cook involved, smaller white beans don't really need to soak or speed cook. Since some folks seem to prefer soaking, I have included that in the instructions. I prefer Camellia brand beans, but use whatever brand you like.

The key to making this soup super flavorful as always though, is first creating a stock from the ham hocks or ham bone used. I try to always keep a few hocks in the freezer and typically buy the store brand of whatever is available, but The Cajun had picked up this big, fat, beautiful and meaty package of pork hocks on his last stop for me. I used the larger piece shown on the left for this pot of beans. Select the best ones you can find.

If you don't have a very meaty pork hock, you'll definitely want to add in some chopped smoked ham with this soup, so it's a good time to pull out one of those holiday chunks you saved in the deep freeze. I use a pretty standard stock recipe of celery, carrot, onion, parsley, bay leaves and whole peppercorns, and let that go for a good hour before going forward with the rest of the recipe.

When you don't have the time to make a ham stock for the soup or cook down the dried beans, you can still get a pretty good version of ham and bean soup using a few shortcuts. I've included that in my cook's notes with the recipe, just in case you're short on time, but would still like to make a nice ham and bean soup.

Here's what I did that's a little different I think than most Senate bean soup recipes that you see. First, I boiled 1 large chopped baking potato along with 1-1/2 cups of chopped onion, a chopped rib of celery and a large chopped garlic clove. Then I mashed that all together with a bit of bacon drippings (or sub in butter) and added it to the soup pot, along with the diced ham.

I had some baked ham leftover, so even though I had a nice, meaty ham hock, I did add some diced ham too.

What a wonderful soup, and I really do love the addition of the fresh potatoes mashed in with the veggies.

Here's how to make it.

Recipe: U.S. Senate Ham and Bean Soup

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 10 min |Cook time: 2 hours 30 min | Yield: About 4 to 6 servings


For the Ham Stock:
  • 1 pound of meaty smoked ham hocks
  • Water to cover (about 7 cups)
  • 1 celery stalk (rib) , rinsed but untrimmed, with leaves and cut into large chunks
  • 1 large carrot, unpeeled, rinsed and cut into large chunks
  • 1 medium onion, unpeeled and quartered
  • 4 sprigs of fresh parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon of whole peppercorns
For the Soup:
  • 1 pound of dry navy (pea) beans, soaked overnight
  • 1 large baking potato, peeled and diced
  • 1-1/2 cups of chopped onion
  • 1 celery stalk (rib), chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon of bacon drippings or butter
  • 1 cup of finely diced smoked ham, optional
  • 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, or to taste
  • Cayenne pepper or Cajun seasoning, to taste, optional

Soak beans overnight to speed the cooking process. Add the hocks to a stockpot and cover with water. Add the remaining stock ingredients, bring mixture to a boil, reduce and simmer for 1 hour. Strain stock, discarding the vegetables and returning the ham hocks and the stock to the soup pot.

Rinse and sort through the beans, add to the soup pot; bring to a boil, reduce and simmer for 1 hour longer. Remove ham hock and once cooled enough to handle, dice meat from the hock, discarding skin and bone. Add the meat to the soup pot.

Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil. Add the potato, onion, celery and garlic all at once, return to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and mash with the bacon drippings or butter; add to soup pot, along with the diced ham, if using; bring to a boil, reduce, and simmer another 25 to 30 minutes, or until beans are tender. Taste, season with salt, pepper and Cajun seasoning; adjust as needed, serve hot.

Cook's Notes: Like all beans, soup will thicken when refrigerated. To loosen, add chicken broth when reheating, a little at a time, until desired consistency is reached.

Shortcut This: You can shortcut this recipe for a quick weeknight soup by omitting the ham hock or bone, and substituting a commercial ham or chicken broth for the homemade stock, adding in 2 tablespoons of chicken base. Include the remaining soup seasonings and the chopped, smoked ham and substitute 4 cans of navy beans, drained and well rinsed, for the dried beans, mashing one can to add creaminess to the soup. Mix together over medium heat until completely heated through.

Source: http://deepsouthdish.com

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©Deep South Dish
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Posted by on January 29, 2013
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  1. We've made a version of this soup before but yours sounds much better and just went on the try soon list.

    1. Thank you Larry! If you give it a whirl let me know what you think!!

  2. My mother-in-law grates the potato then just lets it cook with the soup.
    Also,the hubby likes his brown beans instead but its all really good and i have made it your way with no complaints. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Made my mouth water. My momma used to make this soup. I had forgotten about it. Thanks for the memory!

    We have a Super Bowl/Chili Party going on this week. This would be great to add to our buffet. Some neat giveaways too.

    And we have added a Google Adwords ad to our site for this party. Let's see if this drives us any traffic.

    1. I'll try to remember to stop by, but good luck with the project!

  4. This is really my most favorite soup. It was one of the first soups I learned to make in college.

  5. I've made this soup many times and many versions of it and know how good it is. Especially for the bitter cold weather we're having now! My fave soup! I'm new here and like your blog too!!

  6. I forgot about this soup and it is so darn good. I make a pot of soup every Saturday and this will be the one I make this weekend.

  7. We just finished off a big batch of bean and brat soup and this makes me crave even more! Looks delicious, Mary!

  8. Can't wait to try this.
    Since I found you several months ago, I have NEVER had a recipe fail! You are the mother I've been wishing for. You are obviously an experienced cook, but you are so great at remembering to add the cooks tips for those who are not experienced. Most experienced cooks just are not able to translate their methods to the newbies. I would love to see you on a cooking show.
    Just wondering, why do you boil the vegetables separately in this soup?

    1. So sweet - thank you so much!! I do it separately to mash the veggies into the potatoes to season & flavor them before adding to the soup, since the soup base is already well seasoned.

  9. Made this tonight and it was incredible! Thanks for sharing!


    1. You're welcome Patty & thank you so much for taking the time to come back and leave feedback! I really appreciate that.

  10. Came across your site looking for a stewed tomato recipe like my Grandma made, so glad to have found it! This is just like her bean soup recipe, it would be served with corn bread and raw diced onion. Crumble corn bread in the bottom of the bowl, ladle soup over the top and garnish with onion. Love!

  11. So, this soup sounds divine but Dear Hubby does not eat pork (doesn't know what he's missing!) What can I use to sub or do I just make it for me :)

    1. Pork is pretty central to seasoning in the South, but you could certainly do a bean soup that is more vegetarian. You'd want to bump up the herbs and seasonings to make up for the flavor lost from the smoked pork and really it would no longer be this recipe, but something different. I think this recipe might be more suitable as a base, excluding the ham of course, but using all of the herbs listed, and maybe even add in a little bit of smoked paprika too to incorporate some smokey flavor in there. I think that a can of diced tomatoes would be a good addition also. Hope that helps!

  12. I'm not very experienced at making soups but am very excited to try yours. I actually already have the stock going with the ham bone from Christmas dinner. One question...do I need to quick soak my navy beans

    1. I have done both & don't see a difference really except the soaked ones cook a little faster maybe.

  13. Simmering right now!! Thanks for allowing me to bring a little of the south out west. We have loved everything I have cooked of yours

    1. Ah, you're welcome Christina! This isn't really a "southern" recipe though we certainly do enjoy it in the South! Thanks so much for letting me know that you've been enjoying my recipes - that really means the world to me!!

  14. Hi Mary, Had this recipe pinned for months, but finally conditions were right and I got to make a pot of this soup (which is one of my all-time favorite soups). Your recipe was great, I used a ham bone instead of hocks, and it was everything I hoped for. Love your site. Sometimes I think I was a Southerner born in the wrong state...but maybe Utah is still a little southern?--Patty P

    1. Ham bones are amazing in this soup! I'm so glad that you enjoyed it Patty & thank you so much for letting me know!

  15. Bought the recommend ingredients for the bean soup.when it was done .And the (pork hocks/) were (done). there was about 1Tlbsp. of meat .tons of bones and lot's of fat.was very unhappy . next time I will try a different type meat rather than Smithfield product.

    1. Hmmm... those must've been some very poorly ham hocks! Did you see those huge Smithfield hocks in my photo tutorial above? Did you add in any additional chopped ham? Ham hocks are a bone, meant primarily for flavoring & seasoning, and although depending on their size, they will give some meat at the end, if you're looking for a meaty dish, you'll need to add the additional ham as well. I'm so sorry you were unhappy - the results you see above in the photograph are the results of the recipe exactly as written!

  16. Re: people who avoid pork--I use smoked turkey-wings, neck bones, or drumstix. Made a big pot of black-eyed peas today and one smoked turkey wing super flavored the dish and added enough meat two.

    1. You're so right! It's a different flavor but it's delicious too!

  17. I found your recipe while searching on my smart phone @home figuring what to do with my left over Easter dinner smoked ham bone. Sounds yummy, my husband is expecting a "beef" London broil for dinner tonight, but i think i will make this instead! Thanks for sharing. All your recipes look great.

    1. Thanks so much! It's really a great soup - hope y'all enjoy it!!

  18. My husband and I love bean soups!! This should be a great one. I'm used to making most recipes in the crock pot but I see I need to branch out in the kitchen. Pinning!!

    1. Oh I do love the crockpot for soups! I still tend to do a lot of them on the stovetop still though.


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