Sure, you can pick up a pack of green peas from the freezer section anytime—and you totally should, they’re super convenient when you need a quick touch of green (or an ice-pack) in a pinch—but they can’t hold a candle to the sweet, vibrant English peas that will be showing up at your local farmers’ markets soon (if they haven’t already). Now is the time to start seeking them and buying them by the bucket as soon as you encounter them. Mind you, these aren’t the kind of green peas you want to bury in fried rice like a bag of off-brand mixed veggies, they’re not the peas you’ll be able to watch your toddler disdainfully push around a plastic plate without feeling a little hurt—these are the peas you’ll want to celebrate. Fresh English peas are supple, sweet, and deserve to be highlighted in your spring meals (with butter and fresh herbs and maybe some pasta) like the crowning jewels that they are… that is, if they’re cooked right.
As intuitive of a kitchen task as it seems—ya know, just boiling a pot of peas—it’s actually fairly easy to get this one wrong. And ain’t nobody got time for that. So, I spoke with one of our test kitchen pros, Robin Bashinsky, about the common missteps home cooks take when it comes to cooking fresh peas and he mapped out the following path to a perfect pot.
Step 1: Boil water.
Admittedly not the most profound step, but definitely an essential one. You’ll want to bring a large pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil before adding your peas—Bashinsky says, two quarts of water plus one tablespoon of salt should do the trick. Once you’ve hit a boil, add your peas and bring the pot down to a steady simmer.
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Step 2: Cook the peas longer than you’d expect.
Here, step 2, is the critical step… the step where most folks make their fatal (not really) blunder. These pretty green pearls aren’t as delicate as their appearance would suggest—thus, they need more than a quick blanching to make them palatable. “What people don’t realize is that despite the fact that they’re green, as other quicker cooking vegetables like asparagus and haricots verts are, fresh English peas are very starchy… they take longer to cook fully and get sweet,” Bashinsky says. And while their starchy nature is the reason for a longer-than-expected cook time, it’s also what gives them their signature delicious sweetness. Bashinsky says, “That’s really the key—cooking the peas long enough to turn starch into sugar.”
So, how long is that exactly? According to Bashinsky, 8-10 minutes.
Step 3: Check them for doneness.
Being that the level of starchiness is going to vary depending on where the peas come from, you’ll want to double check and make sure they’re fully cooked before draining. I know that overcooked vegetables are the stuff of nightmares for many of us, but unlike some of these other green, warm weather veggies that you’d boil for a 1 minute or so before shocking in cold water and adding to a vibrant crudite platter, fresh peas are not something to be enjoyed even slightly undercooked. By the same token, you shouldn’t rely on a visual cue (as you would when boiling asparagus or green beans) to know it’s time to drain. Your fresh peas will likely turn from pale to bright green—often a telltale sign of being ready for munching—before they’re fully cooked. Treat them as you would any starchy food and pop a couple in your mouth to see if they’re ready. When they are, drain them.
Step 4: Do ‘em up right.
So at this point, you essentially have peas that are in the same place as your trusty bag of frozen ones—they’re cooked, drained, and ready for action. And as I waxed poetically about at the start of this journey, these are the type of green peas you want to treat special—as in, go a little above and beyond dumping that colander into a serving dish and dropping it on the table. Take a minute to showcase your featured farmers’ market find in its best light. For a simple, but delicious, spring side dish, Bashinsky suggests giving your boiled peas a quick sauté in melted butter with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, then finishing them with a chopped fresh herb, like basil or mint. You could also fold them into a silky risotto or pasta dish, chill them to use for a vibrant pasta salad later, or puree them to make an easy and elegant spread for crostini.