Thursday, July 7, 2011

Fresh Buttered Peas

Consider a serving of canned peas. A generally offensive little mound of shriveled, mushy, murky-smelling spheres hued with a shade of green-brown that only appears on things that have long since died, decomposed, or grosser still, have already been digested and something went horribly wrong. Each child has been told at one point or another, “Eat your peas.” In my case, I’m lucky I didn’t go deaf from the repetitive reprimands and pleas at our dinner table imploring my brother and I to “eat the damn peas.”
No matter. The moral of this story is that the sludge that emerges from a can is often based on something tremendously delicious when prepared fresh.  English shelling peas, as you may have guessed, are my favorite example of this phenomenon of crappy canned = amazing fresh. Have you ever had buttered peas? They’re delicious, and damn it, they’re in season right now! What are you waiting for?
These were my exact thoughts on Tuesday as I trotted off to the Dewey Square Farmers Market (Tuesdays and Thursdays across from South Station).  A couple pounds of English shelling peas later (among other things), and my bigger half and I were in for a treat.
Now, the most obvious deterrent to cooking up peas is the large amount of tidbits that must be extracted from their pods in order to come up with a respectable mound of peas. For a couple helpings of peas for two people, I start with a bag of approximately 8 or 9 handfuls of hearty large pods. Each pod is easy enough to open, just press on the seam, drag your finger through the open pod, and finagle the peas into some sort of a container, ready for cooking. Note, this task is most enjoyable while parked in front of the TV, and watching extra trashy programing. Jersey Shore is optimal.
At some point before, after, or during your shucking (before if you’re in a rush, but come on now… you’re shucking peas, how much of a rush can you possibly be in), fill up a medium sauce pan about half way with water, and I also like to add in about a cup or two of good chicken broth if I’m feeling saucy. Give her a couple tablespoons of kosher salt, and set the pot to a gentle boil.
Grab your peas, you should have about 2 to 3 cups from your 8 or 9 hand fulls of pods, and dump them into the pot. My trick is to wait until they all float to the top, and then count to about thirty and start tasting to check for done-ness. The peas should have turned a more vibrant, shiny green. The texture should be firm, but not crunchy… you know, as in cooked, not raw, and not overdone. When you’ve deemed them delicious (quick tip: less is more in my opinion with fresh peas - err on the side of underdone if you're not quite sure), drain the peas in a colander.
Almost ready… so to finish this up, grab two to three pads of butter, and add to a saucepan on low-medium heat (you can technically use the same one you just boiled the peas in… always nice to wash one less pan). Add a diced shallot and let it saute for a couple minutes. When the shallot bits look softened, throw in your cooked peas, maybe a sprinkle of salt and pepper, give everything a toss, and you’re ready to eat.

Ingredient Rundown:
2-3 cups of shucked fresh English shelling peas
4 cups of water
1 cup of chicken stock
2 tablespoons of salt
2-3 pads of butter
1 diced shallot

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