It is spring and time for softshell crabs and May peas. Eat at many as you can and then be sure to freeze some for next winter. You will be glad you did.
If you want to enjoy May peas all year, the key to a good frozen batch is to buy freshest peas possible. Try to buy them as close to being picked as possible, when the pods are bright and firm and filled with crisp, yet tender and sweet peas. Do not select soft, spotted or dried, leathery pods. Remove the peas from the pod. This is called hulling. There are many techniques and with practice you will find your groove. Next blanch the peas. Boil a large pot of water and drop in the peas for about 2 minutes. That’s it. Remove the peas and cool immediately in ice water for about the same amount of time, 2 minutes, and drain the peas thoroughly. Place the peas in freezer bags and remove the air to prevent drying and freezer burn. These should be fine until next May, when you can start afresh.
Do keep in mind that, once picked, the high sugar content of a May pea, will diminish. Older peas become a bit starchy and are much less sweet. Select the medium-size pods rather than larger, thick-skinned ones, which usually have a bit more age; a taste test is a great indicator of quality. Do consume them within a day or two of purchase or pop them in the freezer.
May Pea Dip
2 cups blanched and chilled May peas or frozen green peas, thawed
Zest of one organic lemon
Juice of half of same lemon
1 small garlic clove
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves
Big drizzle of good extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
Place all ingredients in a food processor and puree. Serve as a dip with spicy lentil chips and raw veggies or as a side for just about anything. Great to keep on hand for random snacking.
May Peas with Butter
The most popular way to enjoy freshly picked peas is straight up English style – boiled, drained, then tossed with way too much real butter and a sprinkling of sea salt. Add a few bits of torn mint, if you are feeling especially cheeky.
May Peas with Gnocchi, Pancetta and Cream
Another great Carolina, and international, tradition is the pairing of pork and peas.
The sweet burst of the tiny pea is the perfect enhancement for salty cured products like country ham and bacon, or for prosciutto or pancetta and a great side for a sautéed softshell crab.
1 lb. high-quality store bought gnocchi (or make it yourself!)
½ lb. diced pancetta
½ lb. shelled May peas, blanched and cooled
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
Heat 2 quarts water to boil in medium-sized pot. In large, dry, cast-iron skillet, cook pancetta over medium heat until fat is rendered and pork is crispy. Turn off the fire and use a slotted spoon to remove the pancetta and place on paper towel to drain. Return heat to medium and add peas to the pan, stirring to coat. You can also give the pan a little shake to move everything around. When the peas are hot, add cream and bring to simmer. Reduce cream by half, lower the fire and whisk in butter. Add cooked gnocchi drained directly from hot cooking water to the pan full of creamy peas. Swirl in the gnocchi and add a generous pinch of sea salt. Taste for seasoning. Serve as an elegant first course or as a side for something fabulous, like softshell crabs.
Softshell Blue Crabs
1 stick butter
¼ cup olive oil blend or grapeseed oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
8 jumbo softshell crabs, cleaned
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper (I use Outer Banks SeaSalt)
Unbleached flour for dredging
Lightly season both sides of the softshells with salt and pepper.
Using a heavy-bottomed sauté pan or a cast-iron pan, warm half the olive oil. Increase the heat to high and add a quarter of the butter. When foamy, add softshells to the pan. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes, then turn over carefully, reducing the heat to medium. Continue to cook until crab turns from translucent to opaque and has a nice golden exterior. Remove onto platter.
Repeat with remaining softshells. Remove softshells and add garlic to medium hot skillet. scrape the bottom of the skillet for the good stuff. Remove from heat. Swirl in remaining butter. Serve over softies.