Although we take advantage of frozen peas in order to enjoy the legumes year-round, there's simply nothing that can replace the toothsome snap of a freshly shelled English pea. English peas — also known as shell peas and garden peas — enjoy a short-lived season during late Spring and early Summer, and they are at their best in May.
For peas that are sweet and crisp, start by looking for shiny, firm, brightly colored pods that feel swollen and heavy. When cooking with English peas, buy much more than you think you will need, as one pound of peas will only equate roughly one cup (one serving) of shelled peas. While it's ideal to eat garden peas as soon as they're picked, they can keep for up to three days when wrapped tightly and placed in the coolest part of the refrigerator.
Unlike sugar snap peas or snow peas, the fibrous pods of English peas cannot be eaten (although they can be used to enhance the flavor of vegetable stock). Shell English peas immediately before they're to be cooked: Break off the stem and pull the fibrous string down the length of the pod. Press each pod between your thumbs and forefingers to open, pushing out the individual peas.
Rinse and drain the peas, discarding pods, stems, and strings.
For the easiest preparation, boil peas in 1/4 inch of simmering, generously salted water for two to four minutes until tender. Drain and serve with a large pat of butter.
Otherwise, prepare them in a multitude of ways:
- Use them in a sweet pea soup.
- Pair peas with beer-braised sausages and pine nuts for a fast and easy Spring feast.
- Dress them up the Michelle Obama way: with leek, shallot, and lemon for a light and bright salad.
- Take a cue from the garden with a cheesy pasta dish that not only includes peas but also asparagus, Spring onions, and butter lettuce.
- Make a delicious pasta salad.
- Add variety to a springtime salad by tossing in a handful of blanched-then-shocked peas.