The pea is a climbing plant from the legume family. Its fruits, edible green pods, encase small green seeds known as peas. These green and tender seeds with a sublimely sweet flavor are a part of French culinary heritage. Grimod de la Reynière (1758-1837) also wrote in the book Le Gastronome Français, Ou, L'art De Bien Vivre that « peas are, without question, the best of all the vegetables that are eaten in Paris ». Their success endures, especially among toddlers.
The fresh pea season is short; they are harvested from May through July/August. Frozen or canned peas are often used, and occasionally dried peas. Two types of peas found in France: Garden or green peas. Their size depends on their maturity when they are picked, and the seeds can be smooth or wrinkled. The pod has a “parchment,” a fibrous layer that hardens as the pea matures. Many varieties exist, classified according to the method of cultivation. Choose peas with very green pods that are free of blemishes, shiny, filled out, and easy to open. You should feel the peas inside when holding the pods. It is good idea to taste a pea; the seed must be crisp and slightly sweet.
Peas are better when they are young. As they age, their glucose turns into starch and they become floury. Snap peas (mangetout). These are eaten together with their pods. The pod does not have a membrane lining. They are harvested before maturity. Choose bright green pods that are slightly iridescent, flat and smooth, brittle, stiff, and small. Snap peas that are too big have membranes. The tip and stem should be very fresh, not dry. Garden peas and snap peas are sold when in season. But the majority of a crop of peas is frozen or canned, and a small part is dried.
The peas, after they have been shelled and washed, are blanched prior to freezing. They are known as “round” peas when they come from smooth-skinned varieties, and “wrinkled” peas when their skin presents this characteristic, with varieties such as Merveille de Kelvedon and Dark Skin Perfection, among others. The grading standards are the same as for frozen peas. They are sometimes sorted by size. When they are, a distinction is made between extra fine, very fine, fine, medium-fine, medium. The addition of sugar and/or salt and/or spices and herbs is allowed but must be indicated on the label. Snap peas are also sold frozen, after being blanched. Frozen peas: They must be well separated from each other, not in a block.
Around 500 g of pea pods are needed to obtain 175 g of peas, and so 1.5 kg for four to five people. If preparing fresh peas, split open the pod and remove the peas with your fingers. Fresh peas need to be shelled at the last minute to prevent them from drying out. Snap peas need to have strings removed carefully. They can be eaten as a garnish, in a casserole with seasonal vegetables, or in a salad.
Peas should be cooked quickly in boiling salted water, drained, and then immediately cooled in ice water to preserve their color. Snap peas should be rapidly blanched, then cooked by steaming, sautéing, or braising.
They are used to make soup (with some pods when they are very soft), puree, casseroles, and salads. Petits pois à la française is a classic recipe in which they are cooked with lettuce hearts, pearl (baby) onions, chervil, and butter. Snap peas can be eaten as a garnish, in a casserole with seasonal vegetables, or in a salad. In Asia, young pea shoots are widely consumed, whether raw in a salad or quickly fried in a wok.
Garden peas and snap peas should be stored in their pods, for a maximum of four to five days in the refrigerator, between 1 and 4 °C. Peas turn floury if they are too cold. It is best to cook them as soon as possible after shelling them. Cooked peas can be kept for a maximum of 48 hours in the refrigerator because the shock of cooking weakens them. The cold chain (-18°C) must be strictly observed for frozen peas. When the peas thaw and refreeze, they form blocks.
The nutritional composition of peas is not very different between fresh and canned peas. The finer they are, the easier they are to digest. Peas are rich in dietary fiber, which is excellent for digestion. They contain more protein and carbohydrates than other vegetables. Much of their carbohydrate is starch, a complex carbohydrate; the rest is glucose and fructose. They also provide a lot of carotene antioxidants. They also contain minerals, vitamin C, and the B-group vitamins in high quantities.
Garden peas Early peas: American Wonder (wrinkled), Bandol, Tom Thumb (white or green seeds), Annonay, Serpette (wrinkled), Vert l'Unique, Little Marvel, Dwarf Chemin, Express à Grain Vert, Prince Albert (white seeds) etc. They are found in markets starting in early April.
Mid-season peas: Hollanden, Lévêque, Senator (wrinkled), Bliss Abundance, Dwarf Telephone, Serpette Express, pole (white or green seeds), Plein de Panier (green seeds), etc.
Late peas: Telephone pole (green wrinkled seed), Ruelle (white seed), Knight, Standard, Clamart. Snap peas The most common varieties are Carouby de Maussane, Corne de Bélier, Sugar Snap, and the Early Snap.