The Garbure is a rustic soup from the Gascony region consisting of smoked ham hock, beans, cabbage and seasonal vegetables slowly stewed. It’s rich, full of smokey flavor and intentionally thick: it’s said a Garbure is ready when the ladle can stand upright in the pot. This robust soup is a great classic of French mountain cooking and best enjoyed on a blistery Winter day.
Like many French dishes, the Garbure was once peasant food, only cooked and enjoyed in rural areas of the South West of France. Its recipe varied from one farm to the other, following the seasons, the produces found in the gardens and meat available in the salting tubs. Eventually, the making of Garbure soup became more popular and adopted by all home cooks, not only farmers. Its recipe remains quite adaptable but always includes: cabbage, beans, potatoes, seasonal vegetables if available, and smoked or confied meat.
The making of a Garbure is best suited for weekends, when you can devote a few hours to being home. It requires time but not necessarily a lot of efforts. The recipe starts the day before with soaking the white beans overnight in a bowl of water. The day of, the cooking of the soup takes up to 4 hours, but this only includes about 30 minutes of active time. For the rest, you can simply keep an eye on the simmering pot, while going on with your other leisurely activities.
A great Garbure starts with building a good broth. No store-bought stock in this case! The broth is made from scratch by simmering a clove-poked onion, herbs and a whole smoked ham hock for one hour. As the hock cooks, its collagen and fat melt into the broth, imparting a rich and smokey flavor unique to this meat cut.
The White beans
World-famous Tarbais Beans (“Haricots Tarbais”) are traditionally used in the preparation of a Garbure. These white beans grown in the South West region of France are beloved for their paper-thin skin, melty flesh and great resistance to cooking. They are very popular in the South of France and the base of many local recipes, including the Cassoulet.
Since Tarbais beans are harder to find in North America, you can use any good-quality white beans. Dried beans, and not canned, are the way to go for this recipe. We want the beans to soak up all the flavor from the broth while they cook yet still hold their shape – while canned beans will likely end up mushy.
Like most mountain cooking, this Garbure was born from a need to adapt to the region’s climate and altitude. In the Pyreenees mountains, locals would make due with what can only grow at high altitude; in this case, potatoes and sturdy cabbages. Savoy Cabbage is at peak in the Winter, and is especially great used in soups as it doesn’t turn into mush but retain a firm texture when cooked.
Landes-Style Garbure, with duck confit.
This recipe which only includes ham is often associated with the Béarn region. This version is the oldest one, anchored in the tradition of simple, affordable peasant food. But if you travel today to the Landes, often referred to as France’s duck country, chances are you will be served a fancier version of the Garbure, including both ham and duck confit.
You can purchase duck confit in most grocery stores, usually sold vacuum-packed or in sealed jars. And if you wish to make your own duck confit, know that it is probably easier than what you think! You can find an authentic homemade duck confit recipe in my cookbook “Rustic French Cooking Made Easy“, or opt for this short-cut duck confit recipe video.
If you wish to include duck confit in this recipe, four pieces will be enough. Simply sear the duck pieces in a pan to crisp up the skin and serve each bowl of Garbure topped up with a piece of confit. Because the duck provides additional meat, you can use a smaller piece of ham hock (about 1.5 to 2lbs) to keep a good meat-vegetable ratio.
- Whole Smoked Ham Hocks can be purchased in most grocery stores, often vacuum-packed, or butcher shops.
- Because Smoked Ham Hock has an assertive salty flavor, be careful not to over-salt the broth.
- Take the time to blanch the cabbage before adding it to the soup. Blanching the cabbage will clean and soften the leaves, while keeping the flavor and nutritional value. It will also make the cabbage easier to digest.
- I love to use Russet Potatoes, also known as Idaho potatoes in North America, for making a Garbure. Once cooked, they have a fluffy flesh that enhances the “creamy”, thick texture of the soup.
- This is a great dish for feeding a large table (+8 people), or to keep in the fridge for leftovers for the next 2 or 3 days. In fact, some say a Garbure is even better reheated the next day!
I hope you’ll love this Smoked Ham Hock Bean Cabbage Soup (Garbure) recipe as much as I do! If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment.
You may also like:
- Classic French Beef Bourguignon
- Braised Rabbit with Prunes (Lapin aux Pruneaux)
- Classic French Lentil Soup
- Braised Chicken Thighs with Garlic and Onion
- Coq au Vin Blanc
8 ounces (225g) dried white beans
2.5lbs (1.15kg) Smoked Ham Hock
1 large onion, peeled
1 celeri branch
4 bay leaves
4-5 thyme sprigs
3 1/2 tbsp (50g) duck fat (or butter)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 large carrots, peeled and cubed
1 large turnip, peeled and cubed
1 leek, cut in ½-inch half rounds
½ medium-size savoy cabbage, shredded
3-4 Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tsp red pepper flakes
The day before, add the dried beans to a bowl and cover with water. Let soak overnight, or at least 12 hours.
Make the broth – poke the cloves into the whole peeled onion. Add the onion, celeri branch, bay leaves, thyme and ham hock into a large pot over high-medium heat. Add about 4.5 litres (18cups) of water or enough to cover the ham hock. Bring the water to a bowl, lower the temperature to low and simmer for 1 hour, covered.
In a large frying pan, melt the duck fat over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, carrots, turnips and leek. Cook for about 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally until the leek is translucent (but not caramelized yet).
After the one hour, add the vegetables and drained beans to the broth. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for one hour, covered.
In the meantime, blanch the cabbage – heat up a medium pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Add the shredded cabbage and cook for 3 minutes until the leaves slightly soften. They should keep their vibrant color. Immediately transfer the cabbage to a colander and pass under cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside to drain.
After the one hour, add the blanched cabbage to the soup and simmer for 30 minutes, covered. Add the potatoes to the soup and simmer for 30 more minutes, covered.
Remove the ham hock from the pot and transfer it onto a cutting board. Discard off the skin and excess fat and shred the meat with a fork; at this point the meat should fall off the bones easily. Return the shredded meat to the pot. Remove the clove-spiked onion, celeri and herbs from the pot. Discard the cloves and herbs, chop up the onion and celeri and place them back in the soup.
Cook for 15 more minutes with no lid and adjust seasoning if needed. To test the thickness of the soup, stick a soup ladle in the pot: if it stands upright on its own, it’s ready. It not, continue simmering the soup until it thickens more.
Serve in individual bowls with a light sprinkle of red pepper flakes and big slices of bread on the side.