Cream and mint add pizzazz to this traditional dish
A classic French dish that’s quick and easy? Mais oui!
This duet of lettuce and peas makes a perfect starter or side. So serve up the flavor without the fuss.
Recipe: French-Style Braised Lettuce and Peas
This dish is best when made with fresh peas. But local peas are only available in our markets for a few weeks of the year. So we generally use frozen. That’s OK, though – frozen peas offer excellent quality. And they’re often actually “fresher” than “fresh” peas because they’ve been processed within hours of being picked (no sitting in a produce bin for days).
Some chefs cook this dish in water or stock, then finish it with butter, cream, or crème fraiche. We skip the water and cook the dish entirely in cream. That adds wonderful flavor and, when reduced, provides a nice sauce. (We got our inspiration for this method from Bert Greene’s recipe for Wilted Peas and Lettuce in Greene on Greens.)
Traditional recipes call for using small pearl onions in this dish (and we discuss that option in the Notes). But we prefer to use shallots or scallions – they have wonderful flavor and are easier to use.
We like to serve this dish as a starter, but it also works as a side.
Prep time for this recipe is about 10 minutes. It serves 4.
Leftovers keep for a day or two if refrigerated in an airtight container.
- 1 largish head Boston Bibb lettuce (or 2 smaller heads; see Notes for alternatives)
- 1 to 2 shallots or 1 bunch of scallions (see Notes if you prefer to use pearl onions)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 cups frozen green peas (see Notes if using fresh)
- ~½ cup mint leaves, tightly packed (may substitute another herb of choice; see Notes)
- salt to taste (a few pinches of kosher salt for us; see Notes)
- freshly ground black pepper to taste (a few grinds for us)
- mint sprigs for garnish (optional)
- Wash the lettuce and tear it into bite-size pieces.
- If using shallots, peel them and cut them into rounds. If using scallions, wash them and cut off the root ends; slice the white and light-green parts into rounds.
- Place a large frying pan over medium stovetop heat. Add the butter to the pan. When the butter is melted, add the chopped shallots or scallions. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes (don’t let them brown).
- Add the cream. Cook until it reduces by about one third (4 minutes or so).
- Add the lettuce and peas. Cook them in the cream until the lettuce is wilted, the peas are tender, and the cream has reduced to a heavy coating (3 to 4 minutes).
- Meanwhile, wash and chop the mint leaves.
- When the peas and lettuce are cooked (Step 5), add salt and black pepper to taste. Add the mint, then stir to combine.
- Dish up on serving plates, adding sprigs of mint for garnish if you wish. Serve and enjoy.
- Ingredient quantities can be somewhat flexible in this dish, so adjust if necessary.
- You could skip the shallot or scallions if you want, but the dish won’t taste nearly as good. We prefer shallots to scallions in this recipe, but only slightly.
- James Peterson (in his book Vegetables) says he first encountered this dish in the 1970s, when he was working in a restaurant in France. He says the chef cooked the peas until they were greyish green and very soft. But Julia Child, in the first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, recommends cooking them for a much shorter length of time.
- We prefer more vibrant-looking (and tasting) peas, so we cook them just until done (as Julia does). That’s one reason to use frozen peas, BTW. They’ll be done in a couple of minutes.
- If using fresh peas: Shell them and cook them in water or chicken stock until just done. You can do this ahead of time (just remove them from the heat and shock them in iced water to stop the cooking). Then when preparing the dish, substitute cooked peas for frozen in Step 5.
- When Peterson prepares this dish, he likes to use cooked bacon bits as garnish.
- Peterson also uses the traditional pearl onions in this dish instead of shallots or scallions (Julia does, too). If you go this route, you’ll need about 20 pearls. Peel them (frozen ones are already peeled) and heat a tablespoon of butter in a frying pan. Add the onions to the pan, along with a bit of sugar. Then add just enough water to come halfway up the onions. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until the onions are tender. You can do this ahead of time, too.
- We like to use a butter lettuce, such as Boston Bibb, in this dish. Little Gem (aka Sweet Gem) is also good.
- Use enough lettuce to equal one largish Boston Bibb lettuce head (about 7 inches across).
- Prefer not to tear the lettuce into pieces? If using two small heads of lettuce, you can cut each head into halves instead. If using one large head, cut it into quarters. If you’re going this route, add the lettuce to the frying pan (Step 5) a couple of minutes before adding the peas to give the lettuce a chance to wilt.
- As noted, you don’t have to cook this dish in cream (though we highly recommend it). If you prefer, you could cook the lettuce and peas in about 1/3 cup of chicken stock or water. Then finish the dish with a tablespoon of cream or crème fraiche.
- Peas and mint go together like, well, peas and carrots. But you can substitute fresh thyme, parsley, or basil for the mint if you like. Or use any other fresh herb that you think would taste good (it probably will).
- We use kosher salt in cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the flakes are bigger, so it packs less densely in a measure). If using table salt, start with about half as much as we suggest. But, as always, season to your taste, not ours.
Lettuce Now Praise Famous Peas
“Sacré bleu,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “This dish is cream of the crop.”
“Yup,” I said. “With this on the menu, our dinner is in mint condition.”
“So what shallot be?” asked Mrs K R. “A starter or a side?”
“Starter,” I said. “The other side veggies would be overshadowed by this dish.”
“True,” said Mrs K R. “They’d be greens with envy.”
Peas and love!
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