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July 13, 2006

Peeled Peas — Appealing?


That question was the central focus of Rowley Leigh's "On Cookery" column in the July 1 Financial Times (FT).

Investigating, Leigh (above) learned that fine Lebanese restaurants peel their chickpeas (garbanzo beans to those in the U.S.) "before pounding them into an incredibly silky hummus."

Who knew?

Here's his piece.

    The appeal of peeling

    To peel or not to peel, that is the nagging question that troubles chefs and, just occasionally, the home cook. When it comes to the paring, shaping and peeling of vegetables there is always a bourn beyond which few will cross. I know many domestic cooks who will not peel a potato or, when forced to do so, set about the task with a knife and therefore throw half the potato - and most of its nutrients - away. Personally, I disapprove of any attempts to pass off unpeeled potatoes - with the honourable and laborious exception of scraping new potatoes - as any kind of workmanship. "Home fries" and the like are concepts dreamt up by accountants and lazy chefs rather than by a conscientious cook seeking to elicit extra flavour.

    Carrots, likewise, come under the same categorical imperative, as do all roots and tubers. But it is with pulses that culinary certainties start to waver. By and large, broad beans, unless very young and small, need to be peeled because as the beans develop, the skins become increasingly tough and bitter. At home, guests are always surprised to see me peeling broad beans and think this extraordinarily painstaking and dedicated. A technique of nicking the blanched beans with the thumbnail and popping them out is soon acquired and once the habit is formed it would seem heretical not to peel the beans, the result being so much superior in tenderness and sweetness.

    So far so very good. However, Chris Galvin and Andre Garrett, taking over the Windows restaurant in the Hilton in Park Lane, have raised the bar somewhat. Taking their cue from Pierre Gagnaire and Guy Savoy in Paris, they peel their peas. I thought the petits pois a la Francaise, despite the heretical inclusion of both bacon and carrots, that I was enjoying were exceptionally sweet but did not notice, until my dining companion pointed it out, that I was indeed eating peas that had been, each and every one, peeled. I was mortified by the prospect of a mountain of peas that would now have to be peeled as well as podded. The problem with being a purist is that you can never be purist enough: there is always a new generation of even greater purists just behind you.

    Discussing this pea peeling issue with another chef, the delightful Jeremy Lee of The Blueprint Café, he told me that the finer Lebanese restaurants peeled their chickpeas before pounding them into an incredibly silky hummus. It seemed that there was no end of peeling to be done. Nightmares of peeling lentils and split peas, rice even, began to fill my thoughts. Luckily sanity was resumed with a quite exceptional dinner at The Castle Hotel in Taunton. I did not dare tell the brilliant and genial chef, Richard Guest, about my pea anxieties.


Leigh is the chef at the highly-regarded Kensington Place restaurant in London, besides being an award-winning writer: he is the 2006 winner of the prestigious Glenfiddich Food & Drink Award for Cookery Writing for his work in FT weekend.

If you're curious as to whether he's now peeling his peas and/or chickpeas, his restaurant is at 201-205 Kensington Church Street, London W8 7LX; tel. 020 7727 3184.

July 13, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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I'm sorry but personally, I much prefer the taste of homemade mashed potatos / fries with the skin on.

There's nothing like hot mashed unpeeled baked potatos. The skin just adds something a little extra.

Posted by: IB | Jul 14, 2006 2:25:40 AM

I'm a firm believer in the texture of food as well as the taste. For the same reason, I cannot eat certain mushrooms because they are just way too slick -- I need something earthier and doesn't slide around.

As such, how silky is this hummus? I'm made my own before -- its not too hard, garbanzos, some oil, lemon and some tahini (or you can substitute this for oddly enough peanut butter which I didn't figure would actually taste good but did -- and then all the other crap you throw in there).

My biggest complaint when making it myself has been the texture: its just too smooove. And the chef above seems like this is what he's after. Now I think I'll have to check my 'peas to see if they were pre-peeled because it tastes just as silky as described and I hate it.

Posted by: clifyt | Jul 13, 2006 9:59:10 PM

According to Michael Ruhlman's 'The Soul of a Chef', Thomas Keller (of the renowned French Laundry) advocates peeling fava beans BEFORE they are cooked. He argues that the skin gives the beans a bitter taste if cooked together. Peeling them before cooking is a lot more tedious than doing it after! I tried it, unfortunately, and it's pretty time-consuming. (The only thing I regret is that I neglected to leave some 'control' fava beans to compare with! -- bad scientist, bad scientist)

Posted by: Dulcinea | Jul 13, 2006 7:53:43 PM

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