Lisa Kingsley and Hilary Meyer
April 20, 2020
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Pictured recipe: Cacio e Peppe with Peas

A bowl full of just-shelled peas is an anticipation of pure pleasure—if the peas make it into the bowl at all, sweet and crunchy as they are. But frozen peas also have wonderful flavor—and save you a ton of work in the kitchen. The key to preserving the wonderfully sweet flavor and crisp texture of peas is to barely cook them. Briefly boiled or steamed English peas need very little embellishment—just a small bit of butter and a little salt, maybe chopped mint or basil. Sauté snow peas in sesame oil and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and salt. Crunch on crisp and juicy sugar snap peas (an edible-pod pea that is a cross between snow peas and English peas) raw with dip or slice into thin ribbons and toss with coarsely shredded radishes and vinaigrette. No matter what kind of peas you have on hand, here's how to buy, prep and cook them, plus freezing instructions to keep sweet peas around a little longer.

Buying Peas

The short shelf life of English peas in particular means they can be difficult to find fresh. Outside of growing your own, a farmstand or farmers' market is your best bet. For all three varieties, choose pods that are crisp, glossy and bright green, with fresh-looking ends. Avoid pods that are dull, faded, yellowing, blemished, limp or overly mature.

Prepping Peas for Storage and Cooking

Store fresh English peas, unshelled, in a plastic bag or reusable produce bag in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Shell right before cooking. Store snow peas and sugar snap peas in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

English peas require shelling before you cook them. Although some varieties of sugar snap peas and snow peas are stringless, most need to have the strings removed from both sides of the pod. Using your fingers or a paring knife, snap off the stem end, then pull the string off along the length of both sides of the pod. Rinse snow peas and sugar snap peas in a colander under cool running water. (Check out The Best Way to Store Fruits and Veggies here.)

Pea Cooking Basics

As soon as peas are picked, their sugars start to convert to starch, so the quicker they make it into the pot or pan (or your mouth), the sweeter they'll be.

Pictured Recipe: Easy Pea & Spinach Carbonara

Boil

Bring 1 cup of water for each cup of shelled English peas or edible-pod peas (snow peas or sugar snap peas) to a boil in a pot; add peas. Cover and cook until tender-crisp, 2 to 4 minutes; drain. Toss with butter, salt and chopped fresh tarragon.

Microwave

Place 3 cups shelled English peas in a microwave-safe bowl. Add 2 tablespoons water. Cover and microwave on High for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring once. For snow peas or sugar snap peas, place 2 cups peas in a microwave-safe bowl. Add 2 tablespoons water. Cover and microwave on High until tender-crisp, 2 to 4 minutes. Drain and season as desired. Serves 6 (English peas) or 2 (snow peas or sugar snap peas).

Steam

Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a saucepan fitted with a steamer basket. Add shelled English peas. Cover and steam until tender-crisp, 10 to 12 minutes. For snow peas or sugar snap peas, cover and steam until tender-crisp, 2 to 4 minutes; drain. Toss with olive oil, salt and freshly grated lemon zest.

Frozen Peas

If you're freezing fresh peas, do so when they're in their prime to preserve their natural sweetness. Peas should be blanched (briefly cooked in boiling water) before freezing. To blanch peas, bring 1 gallon of water per pound of peas to a boil in a large pot. Add the peas; cover, return to a boil and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.

Transfer the peas to a large bowl of ice water. Drain well; pat dry. Spread the peas in a single layer on a large baking sheet and freeze until solid. Pack the frozen peas in quart- or gallon-size freezer bags (or pack them in bags that are made to use with a vacuum sealer) and seal them airtight before storing in the freezer. (Got frozen peas? Check out these 25 Recipes That Start with Frozen Peas.)

Pictured recipe: Pea Soup

Cooking Frozen Peas

There is perhaps no better frozen vegetable to have on hand than frozen peas. If frozen properly, they retain their texture and sweetness far better than most other frozen veggies. You can add a handful of frozen peas to soups, stews and pasta dishes, or let them thaw and use them as a salad topping. To reheat frozen peas in the microwave, place them in a covered container and microwave them for 1 to 2 minutes or until heated through. To reheat on the stovetop, steam in a steamer basket for 2 to 3 minutes. Toss gently heated peas with melted butter or extra-virgin olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper and chopped fresh tarragon, basil or chives.

Pea Nutrition

1/2 cup cooked English peas: Calories 67, Fat 0g (sat 0g), Cholesterol 0mg, Carbs 12g, Total sugars 5g (added 0g), Protein 4g, Fiber 4g, Sodium 3mg, Potassium 217mg.

Bonus: Technically legumes, peas are a key source of nutrients that support heart health, especially fiber and vegetable protein. Try tossing 1 cup of peas into pasta, rice or quinoa.