Delicate spring peas require minimal cooking; you want to preserve the pod’s satisfying pop, which releases the sweet, smooth interior. Use fresh peas as soon as possible after they are picked and favor smaller peas over larger. Boost the flavor of frozen peas by pairing them with meats such as bacon or chorizo, or herbs such as mint and tarragon.
Braising in just a minimal amount of liquid allows peas to release their own natural juices and absorb any seasoning you add. Melt a knob of butter in a skillet or heavy pan and cook the peas for just a couple of minutes with a cover until they are tender. A canny chef’s tip is to crush the peas first by pulsing them in a food processor just a few times until most of the peas are split, but some remain whole. Braise the rough puree in a fine emulsion of butter and water for less than a minute for a dish with the texture of risotto. “Bon Appetit” recommends combining frozen peas and lettuce leaves, seasoned with butter and salt, in a Dutch oven, to cook over low heat until the steam from the wilted lettuce heats the peas through, a matter of minutes at most.
Since fresh peas can be eaten raw straight from the pod, they only need blanching for a couple of minutes in a tiny amount of water, just enough to cover the base of the pan, to leave them tender. Avoid adding salt as it will toughen them, but a pinch of sugar enhances their sweetness. To retain their color, transfer them immediately to a bowl of iced water if you won’t be serving them right away; reheat them with a boiling water rinse. To prepare a hearty pea soup, simply boil the peas in chicken stock; pulse the soup with an immersion blender and thicken it with a dash of cream.
Given the short cooking times for peas, the subtle distinctions between cooking methods can be lost. Sauteing frozen peas in butter, for example, follows much the same procedure as braising, although you can deglaze the skillet with wine and let the evaporating liquid steam the peas, preserving the flavors in the process. Remove the pan from the heat and add another pat of butter to thicken the sauce. Cooked in the microwave, peas require only a splash of water, or none at all if you first toss them in olive oil and lemon juice. Cook covered on full power for 5 minutes, stirring halfway through.
While fresh peas can be eaten straight out the pod, with a delicious sweetness during the height of the spring season, not all peas need shelling. Named for the distinctive sound they make when their pods are bent, sugar snap peas can be roasted whole in the pod, with just a sprinkling of salt. Toss the pods first in olive oil, then spread them on a baking sheet in a single layer. Place it under a broiler and grill until the peas start to crisp and develop brown spots, which should take no longer than 2 minutes.
References and ResourcesBon Appetit: 10 Things To Do With Frozen Peas
BBC Good Food: Peas
Fine Cooking: Peas From the Pod
Huffington Post: Cooking Off the Cuff, Maybe the Best Way to Cook Peas
Taste.com: Green Peas
Epicurious: What to Cook Now, Fresh Peas
Southern Living: Guide to Summer-fresh Field Peas
Epicurious: Roasted Sugar Snap Peas With Fleur de Sel
Philly Inquirer: The High-tech Key to Garden – Fresh Peas