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How to Cook and Serve Garden Peas

Steamed peas and carrots
Steamed peas and carrots
Steamed peas and carrots

How do you cook peas? Peas are cooked in the least possible amount of water and in just the time for them to become just tender.

The French cook peas in the water it takes to moisten lettuce leaves. Line a saucepan with damp greens and a few pea pods, pour in the shelled peas, and cover them with moist lettuce. Steam the peas over high heat for about 3 minutes or until they are al denté, just tender.

Be careful not to overcook peas. Boiling or long steaming will increase water absorption and cause the peas to become soggy and mushy. Both flavor and nutrients are sacrificed when peas are overcooked.

When the peas are ready, the simplest way to enjoy them is with butter, salt, and pepper.

Pea, garden pea, and English pea are all the same. The pea is traditionally the first kitchen garden crop planted each year. It goes into the ground as soon as the soil can be worked.

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When peas come to harvest, follow this advice: pick peas the instant that they are bright green and the pods begin to bulge. Split the pod open with your thumb and roll the small sweet peas into your mouth or into the bowl and immediately prepare and enjoy. Young, small, tender peas are the sweetest to eat.

Peas are much like corn as soon as they mature a chemical reaction occurs that causes the peas’ sugar content to decrease rapidly. A fresh, sweet, juicy pea can rapidly become starchy and hard. The same is true if the pea is shelled and then left on the kitchen counter or in a warm place for more than a few hours.

Garden peas

Two pounds of peas in the shell will give you about two cups of shelled peas. That is enough to serve three or four people.

Early peas are harvested from late spring to early summer and the main crop is harvested from midsummer to early fall. Peas require 55 to 70 days from sowing to harvesting and they won’t thrive if the soil temperature climbs much above 75°F (24°C). So if your growing season is long enough and the weather doesn’t grow too hot, you might get a mid-season pea crop as well.

Garden peas—also commonly called English peas or green peas—are one of the first vegetables harvested in spring. They are best picked as soon as the pods fill out and the peas inside are fat and round.

Petit pois or baby peas are small-seeded garden peas. They include peas that are simply picked very early but also include some pea cultivars that are genetically smaller than others. Petit pois, known by gourmands for their tenderness and sweet flavor, is a delicacy in France.

Garden peas

How to Choose Peas

  • Select peas that have plump, unblemished, bright green pods.
  • Peas in the pod should be glossy, crunchy, and sweet.
  • The pods should be plump but not bulging. Peas in a bulging pod will be too mature.
  • Peas are ripe when the seam on the side of the pod has gone from convex to concave.
  • Avoid pea pods that are dull looking or rattle when shaken. The peas inside will be old and have lost moisture. Avoid peas with yellowish or gray speckles.
  • Break a pod open and taste a pea. It should be sweet, not starchy.
  • Shelled garden peas should go directly to the table with only a brief stop at the stove. The sweetness of the peas is at stake.
  • The conversion of the pea’s natural sugar to starch begins immediately after harvest. Some cooks say the greatest lag time between picking and serving peas should be no more than 12 hours. If you serve properly stored peas within a day or two of harvest, you should still find them a treat.
  • Garden peas are peas out of the pod eaten as a green vegetable. Peapods are parchment-like and too stringy to eat. Garden peas along with field peas are also known as shelling peas because the pods are removed before eating.
  • But all garden peas which are eaten when they are fat but still soft will be a sweet treat. Depending upon the variety, garden peas ready for harvest will measure from 1¾ to 6 inches (4-15 cm) long and contain between two and ten seeds of varying sizes. Seeds are generally round but also can have a slightly square form. Most garden peas are green but some varieties may be grayish, whitish, or brownish.

How to Store Peas

Peas that you are going to hold onto before eating should not be shelled. Set them uncovered in the coldest part of the refrigerator until you are ready to shell them. Rinse peas before you shell them not after.

If you are leaving peas in the refrigerator overnight or a day or two, they will still be tasty, but not as sweet as if you used them within two hours of harvest. If you get peas at the market, check to see when they are harvested. Farm market peas are usually sold the day after harvest.

  • Refrigerate peas in pods unwashed in a plastic bag for no more than 2 days.
  • Shelled peas can be kept in the refrigerator in a sealed plastic bag for 2 days.
  • Shelled, blanched peas can be frozen for 2 months.
Shell peas
Shell garden peas before cooking

How to Prepare Peas

  • Shell garden peas just before using.
  • Rinse peas under running water before shelling; snap off the stem end of the pod; pull off the string along the seams. Do the same at the other end, and pry the pod open to remove the seeds.

Peas Serving Suggestions

  • Serve peas within hours of harvest otherwise, the sugars will start turning to starch. Peas can be served raw or cooked.
  • Boil or steam fresh peas in a minimum amount of water in a covered saucepan for 30 seconds to 1 minute but no more than 3 minutes. Overcooked peas will be mushy.
  • Use fresh, raw, sweet English peas tossed into salads.
Steamed garden peas and baby onions
Steamed garden peas and baby onions

Peas Cooking Suggestions

Cooked peas can accompany meat and poultry dishes. Peas are good with delicate meats such as veal or veal sweetbreads. Use peas in soups, stews, omelets, frittatas, and pasta dishes.

  • Braise peas in stock with lettuce. French cooks add shredded lettuce to steaming peas. You can also add onion or green onion.
  • You can braise peas between two layers of rinsed lettuce leaves. Italian cooks braise peas with prosciutto. Indian cooks braise peas with cubes of firm cheese.
  • Mix peas with carrots or corn and serve hot. Combine peas with asparagus spears.
  • Serve fresh, cooked peas with boiled potatoes.
  • Serve just steamed or boiled peas buttered with a sprig of mint.
  • Steamed peas can be cooled and then tossed with diced ham and mayonnaise for a summer salad. Add cold, cooked peas to mixed salads or potato salad.
  • Serve peas in cream sauce with pearl onions, celery, or carrots.

Frozen peas processed just after harvesting most closely mimic fresh peas in color, flavor, and nutritional value.

Boil peas
Just cover the peas with water to boil.

How to Boil Peas

  1. Shell the peas.
  2. Place the peas in a saucepan and just cover them lightly with salted water.
  3. Boil briefly until the peas are just tender and bright green, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Drain the peas.
  5. Melt the butter in a skillet over low heat
  6. Add the peas to the butter and toss; salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Serve hot.
Peas with onion
Sautéed peas served with butter.

How to Braise-Sauté Peas

  1. Shell green peas, about 3 pounds.
  2. Wash a head of leaf lettuce but do not dry it.
  3. Melt a stick of unsalted butter in a 2 to 3-quart saucepan then cover the bottom of the pan with damp lettuce leaves.
  4. Put the peas on top of the lettuce and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and a teaspoon of sugar. Place damp lettuce leaves on top of the peas. (The lettuce creates steam and liquid.)
  5. Cover and cook over low heat until the peas are just tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.
  6. Serve the peas with or without the lettuce.
Steam peas
Steam peas in 2 to 4 minutes

How to Steam Peas

  1. Shell the peas.
  2. Place an inch of water into a saucepan. Put a steamer basket over the water; be sure the water does not touch the basket.
  3. Put the shelled peas in the basket.
  4. Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pot.
  5. Cook until the peas art tender and bright green, about 2 to 4 minutes.

How to Microwave Peas

  1. Shell the peas.
  2. Place the peas in a microwave-safe dish with a tablespoon of water.
  3. Cover with a lid or paper towel and cook on high for around 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Stir the peas and cook until tender, about 3 to 5 minutes more.
  5. Drain the peas and serve hot.
Pea spup
Pea soup with carrots

How to Make Pea Soup

Peas Flavor Partners

  • Serve garden peas with artichokes, chervil, chives, crabmeat, lettuce, mint, salmon, scallions, scallops, shad, shrimp, sorrel, or tarragon.

Peas Nutrition

  • Peas contain vitamins A, B, and C and niacin and iron.
  • Peas are low in calories.
Garden peas
Garden peas, also called green peas and English peas

About Peas

  • Peas have oblong pods that contain up to ten round seeds. Most garden pea cultivars have flowers that are white. Peas with flowers that are pink and purple are used for making dry peas or split peas.
  • Peas are an annual crop that originated in the eastern Mediterranean region, probably in ancient Persia. The cultivation of dried peas began more than 8,000 years ago. Green peas and edible-podded peas–such as snow peas and sugar snap peas—are more recent developments.
  • Garden peas in addition to being known as green peas or English peas are also sometimes called baby peas, early peas, June peas, and by the French name petit pois.
  • Garden peas are descended from field peas and are the product of centuries of cultivation and selection. The Greeks and Romans cultivated shelling peas for drying. Renaissance gardeners were the first to cultivate sweet green peas.
  • The cool climate of England is perfect for growing peas. The sophistication of peas growing in England and the development of new varieties there resulted in garden peas being dubbed English peas.

The botanical name for English peas is Pisum sativum.

Also of interest:

How to Prepare Garden Peas with No Recipe

How to Cook and Serve Snow Peas

How to Grow Peas

How to Harvest and Store Peas

Garden Planning Books at Amazon:

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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