The delicate, fresh peas tucked inside the fibrous pods of English shelling peas are most tender and sweet when they're cooked within a few hours of picking. Unlike edible-pod snow peas and snap peas, English peas must be popped out of their protective shells for eating. Also known simply as garden peas or sweet peas, the tiny green morsels are a good source of vitamins A and C, and dietary fiber. Because English peas turn starchy and harden rapidly, commercial growers shell, blanch and freeze them immediately to preserve their texture and taste. Whether you are cooking fresh-picked peas from the garden or farmers market, or starting with a packet from the freezer, English shelling peas lend themselves to quick, classic cooking methods for simple vegetable side dishes.
Rinse the pea pods under cool running water to wash off any dirt or residue.
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Snap the stem end and pull the thick string of fiber that runs the length of the English pea pod. Pull the pod open and push the peas out into a dish. A pound of pea pods yields about a cup of fresh, green peas.
Dump the peas into a pot of boiling water with 1 to 2 teaspoons of salt in it. Allow the water to return to a boil.
Cook the fresh peas for two to four minutes. Small, immature peas need only a couple of minutes to soften and turn bright green. Peas that are more mature and filled the pods completely take an additional minute or two to cook through.
Drain the peas in a colander, stir in 2 to 3 teaspoons of butter and serve promptly while the peas are still piping hot.
Place the frozen peas in a microwave-safe dish, cover them with plastic wrap, and microwave on high for two to three minutes. Stir the peas, add a pinch of salt and microwave an additional one to three minutes until they are heated through. Dump the peas in a colander to drain off excess water, then serve immediately.
Fill the bottom inch of a cooking pan with water and bring it to full, rolling boil. Dump the frozen peas in the water, cover the pan with a lid and allow it to return to boiling. Reduce the heat to medium, stir the peas and cook them for another two to three minutes until they are evenly hot. Drain and serve the peas promptly.
Thaw the frozen shelling peas on the counter for several hours, or more quickly, in the microwave. Drain the thawed peas in a colander. Saute 2 to 3 tablespoons of minced shallots or mild onion with about 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the drained peas to the pan along with 2 to 3 tablespoons of chicken or vegetable stock. Cook for four to five minutes, stirring occasionally as the stock reduces. Stir in salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste and serve while the seasoned English peas are warm.
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Make a light, flavorful pea salad by chilling fresh-picked English shelling peas in the refrigerator after they have been cooked and drained. Stir in a light vinaigrette or a spoonful of low-fat mayonnaise and chopped fresh herbs.
Brighten the flavor of fresh or frozen English peas by adding one or two fine-chopped fresh mint leaves during the last minute of cooking.
Do not use English shelling peas with pods that are shriveled, yellowed or that have dark spots on them. This is a sign that the peas are aged, and they will be starchy and bland instead of sweet and tender when cooked.