By Kemp Minifie, Gourmet
Ever since sugar snap peas hit the marketplace in the early 80′s, they've become the favorite pea, more popular than English (shelling) peas or snow peas. Are we surprised? Sugar snaps are the essence of a no-waste, no-fuss vegetable that has everything going for it: A giant reward of flavor for minimal work.
English peas, in contrast, require time and patience for shelling-that is, if you are using fresh ones in the pod, and not already shelled and frozen-and the pile of pods you're left with is substantial.
Snow peas are all about pod and no pea, so it's easy to feel you're missing something. According to Leslie Land, a cookbook and gardening author, if snow peas are allowed to grow and mature, the peas inside "taste dreadful."
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Will The Real Sugar Snap Pea Please Come Forward: The sweetest, best-tasting sugar snap is the original sugar snap pea, claims Land. It was developed by Dr. Carl Lamborn of the University of Idaho in a cross between an unusual English pea he found with an extra thick pod and the snow pea. "You won't get it at the supermarket or the farmers market," she explained, "because it's not a commercially suitable variety. It's a tall fussbudget you have to grow yourself." Shorter varieties with names like Sugar Daddy and Super Sugar Snap are easier to grow, but don't deliver quite the same knockout flavor.
There Are Always Strings Attached: OK, so sugar snaps are almost fuss-free. Before eating you do need to string them. The toughest string runs down the straight edge of the pod, so with a knife, begin to cut off the tip, starting on the edge opposite the straight edge, but stop before cutting all the way through, and pull the string off. There's a thinner string on the opposite edge that you can attempt to snag, too, at either end, but it's often barely there.
Don't Blanch at Blanching: Sure, you can eat sugar snaps raw, and we do it all the time, but if you are putting together a crudité platter, the sugar snaps will be a brighter green and more alluring if you blanch them first in boiling water for about 5 to 10 seconds, then shock them in some ice water. This way, they'll still retain their addictive crunch.
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The Etiquette of Consumption: Contrary to how they're most often served, a whole sugar snap pea is just too big a mouthful. If you are dunking it in a dip, it's long enough to tempt you into double dipping, which you already know is a big no-no!
The photo above shows two different ways to cut your sugar snaps: Cut in thirds crosswise, or halve lengthwise on a long diagonal. If you are steaming them, you can cut them before or after. But if you are boiling them, realize that the tumbling action in the water will free the peas from their pods, so keep them whole while boiling and cut them afterwards.
Snap, Crackle and Crunch: It's right there in the name: Sugar snap peas are all about texture and sweetness. Thy don't take long to cook, 1 to 2 minutes max. And remember, a limp sugar snap pea is a sad thing.
Shopping Tips: Look for shiny, dark green pods. If they're pale and lackluster, don't buy them. The pods should be full and rounded, but if you can see the individual bumps of each pea outlined on the pod, they're over the hill and will likely be starchy.
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