Sunday, January 22, 2012

An English Chip Shop Favorite: Mushy Peas

I often extol the virtues of English food in an attempt to counteract the bad reputation that it has earned over time.  Oh sure, just like any country’s cuisine, some of England’s unsavory food reputation has been well deserved, but let us not forget that we have Slim Jims and Spam ourselves.

As you can tell from reading my blog I am a real lover of unassuming, plain old simple cooking.  In England this spans the gamut from toad in the hole to bread and butter pudding.  Somewhere in between are some of my favorites, steak and ale pie, sticky toffee pudding and fish and chips.

Most every little village in the UK has their own jewel in the crown, the local fish and chip shop.  In addition to great fried fish, there are usually a few sides available here as well, most notably big chunky chips, and very often mushy peas and baked beans.  While baked beans are a big favorite a lot of times, it’s the mushy peas I really love with my fish and chips.  
In the UK mushy peas are most often prepared with marrowfat peas.  Marrowfat peas are peas that are allowed to mature and dry in the field instead of being harvested in their youth like garden peas.   You may recognize them as the peas used to make wasabi peas.  I found these giant super plump peas (sans wasabi coating) impossible to find here in the Denver area, so I set about replicating them with what I could find. 

I started out my hunt for the perfect American mushy pea recipe with frozen peas.  I cooked them per the package instructions, leaving a bit of the cooking liquid in the pan to add some additional moisture to my recipe.  I mashed them and whipped them around a bit and what I landed up with was pretty good, but it missed the mark.
Next I tried soaking and cooking dried peas.  I must admit from the start here that I found my plain old dried peas (not split peas which taste ok, but get too mushy) at my favorite rainy day hang out, my local Asian market.  You might have to do a little hunting to seek even these out, but it is worth the trouble if you are looking for great stateside mushy peas.

Dried Whole Green Peas

I soaked my peas overnight (or at least 8 hours) and then cooked them for close to 3 hours to get the right tenderness.  I removed the transparent skins that cooked to the top and then mashed them just a tad as they were already starting to breakdown.  I was so proud of myself for not spooning in a bunch of seasonings as I did have some fresh bacon drippings sitting right next to the pot.  I had to remind myself that it was simplicity I was after here not a spice rack full of ingredients.
The end result was the closest thing to English chip shop mushy peas on this side of the Atlantic.  Although time consuming, this was really a simple recipe. So if you love mushy peas as much as I do, or if you’d like to try something new, give this super simple recipe a try.

Mushy Peas
1 cup dried whole green peas
6 – 7 cups water, divided
1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Black pepper to taste
Fresh lemon juice (optional)

Sort through the peas, place in a large sauce pan and cover with 3 cups of water.  Soak peas in water overnight or at least 8 hours.
Drain peas and cover with enough of the remaining water to cover by an inch or so.  Add salt to the peas and water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a slow boil, cover with a tight fitting lid and cook until peas are soft, approximately 2 – 3 hours. 
Remove the cover and stir well.  Mash the peas until about 50% of them are mashed.  Continue cooking to reduce the amount of liquid until the peas have the consistency of loose refried beans.  Add pepper and just a squeeze of lemon juice if desired to brighten the flavor.  Serve immediately.
Serves 4,  or in our case 2

*Some recipes call for baking soda to be added to the cooking water to help speed up the breakdown of the peas.  I've also read that some think it cuts down on the gassiness of the peas.  I can't verify either of these theories as once I read it breaks down the beneficial thiamine (Vitamin B1) in the peas I just left it out.  I'll leave this experiment up to you.

Mushy Peas
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