Cook the Peas, Please: Great Debate For the Mushy Pea
You might not know it, but there’s a controversy going on right now in the food world. And it’s not the type that concerns fast food or childhood obesity. It has nothing to do with sustainably raised produce or legislation for food safety laws. It doesn’t even concern Wal-Mart.
No, it’s not about any of those things. It’s about peas, and how they should be cooked.
In the food world, the “right” way to prepare a certain ingredient—whether it is steak, tomatoes, or chocolate sauce—is constantly being revised according to the trends of the time. How do we maximize the flavor? How is it “meant” to be prepared? How do Italian grandmothers make it? Today, the simmering debate is about the proper way to cook peas.
Conventional wisdom dictates that peas—fresh from the garden, plucked off the grocery store shelf, or pulled out of the freezer—should only be cooked until they are warm. Any more and we’ll start having nightmares of the mushy peas Grandma always used to force us to eat. But the truth of the matter is, Grandma may have been on to something.
“Controversially, I also love them with the hell cooked out of them, when they deform into wrinkle-skinned beads, but take on a wonderfully savory, creamy character,” wrote Francis Lam, the senior food writer at Salon.
It’s true that cooking garden-fresh peas, just minutes off the plant, requires only a few seconds of cooking. That way, their sweet, fresh flavor stays intact. But unless you have a garden right outside your back door, the peas’ sugar quickly converts into starch. Once this happens, they need to be more thoroughly cooked to reach their peak flavor.
“The stereotype about peas is you take ‘em and you cook ‘em for maybe about twelve seconds,” noted Matthew Amster-Burton on the Podcast Spilled Milk.
But as Francis Lam responds later on the same podcast, “If you cook the damn thing for an appropriate amount of time, it becomes amazing.”
Convincing the world that his pea philosophy is true will be another matter all together for Lam. He offers a few recipes on his blog, including “cumin-ginger stewed peas,” to try to get the adventurous home cook to give his theory a shot. But whether people are willing to cook their peas for that long remains to be seen. People have strong feelings about how to prepare certain foods, particularly ones they were fed as small children.
“I thought you just warmed them up,” said Damiano Marchetti ’12, “What else is there to do?”
As Francis Lam would like us to believe, apparently a whole lot more. The small, less-than-bite-sized pea is a bit more controversial than it might first appear. Then again, just about any food can and will be argued over. It’s just the nature of the world of food, particularly now, when anyone can instantly broadcast their foodie-opinions online with the click of a button.
Undoubtedly, “the great controversy of how to cook an English pea,” as Molly Wizenberg of Spilled Milk described it, will continue to be fought in kitchens, blog posts, and podcasts across America. And it may be decided that Francis Lam and your grandmother share a common opinion: that a well-cooked pea is a correctly cooked pea.
“Fresh peas are a lie!” Lam declared, “I feel very strongly about this.”