I was shelling peas yesterday, while watching reruns of The Office, when my boyfriend came in and looked askance into the bowl. “What ARE those?” he said. I looked up in mock-horror. He didn’t know what fresh peas looked like! I teased him mercilessly before taking pity on him and cooking the peas gently with butter and fresh herbs for dinner. He loved them; it was a revelation.
So many of us grew up eating frozen peas out of a bag or mushy peas fresh from a can. I know I did; in fact, I loved canned peas. The sad truth is, I didn’t know what a fresh pea looked like until I started working in a restaurant in the 25th year of my life. That was a long time to go without fresh peas! Now that I know how wonderful, delicate, and sweet they are, I’ll never buy canned again.
Shelling peas is easy and fun, especially if you do it while watching your favorite TV show or listening to the radio. Kids, especially, like to do this job. The easiest way to shell is to have two bowls, one directly in front of you and one to your right (unless your left handed, in which case you’ll want it to your left). Pick up a pea pod, pinch the stem end, and pull down to pull off the little string along one side. Then run your finger along that side to open it up like an envelope, and slide your finger down the pod to release all the peas into the bowl. Toss the empty pod into the bowl to your right, and continue shelling. For kids, you’ll want a big bowl for the peas, since they have a tendency to bounce everywhere.
In general, I prefer to blanch my fresh peas in boiling, salted water for a few minutes, before I saute them or use them in anything else. If you’re not going to use the blanched peas right away, be sure to shock them in ice water directly following the boiling water; this protects their bright green color and keeps them from overcooking.
In fact, the frozen peas you buy at the store are also blanched quickly, before flash freezing. If you’d like to freeze your own fresh peas for later use, blanch and shock them, and then spread them in a single layer on a rimmed baking tray lined with parchment. Put them in the freezer and later, when they’re completely frozen, you can transfer them to a container or a zip lock bag.