Blanching and peeling fava beans is a spring "right of passage" for many cooks. Labor intensive and somewhat time consuming, when prepped properly you're rewarded with meaty little green morsels that are well worth the work.
Also known as broad beans or horse beans, favas are only available for one to two months during spring. Because they have such a short season, you'll find chefs prepping and gorging, in that order, as much as they can before the season ends. Favas are widely used in European, Mediterranean and sometimes Asian Cuisine. They're also widely grown in California which makes them hard to ignore if you live on the west coast.
In early spring, "fava greens" (the actual leaves) are tender and full of fresh fava flavor. They can be treated much like a hearty spinach; served raw in salads, blanched, baked or wilted into a sauté.
How To Peel, Prep And Blanch Fava Beans
- Fava beans come in large, oversized pods also known as husks. The first step is to remove the individual beans by opening the seam that runs the length of the fava pod. Later in the season, there's a fiber that runs along this seam that is sturdy enough to pull, making this step more efficient.
- On younger favas, use a sharp paring knife to make a shallow slice along the same seam.
- Once open, remove the fava beans from the pod and blanch in boiling, salted water. This will help loosen the tough skin that encases the meaty flesh.
- Continue to boil for 2-3 minutes then shock in an ice bath until thoroughly chilled.
- Once the fava beans have cooled, it's time to start the "picking process;" every cook's favorite job. Start by ripping a hole in one end of the skin then squeezing the opposite end with your other hand. When done correctly, the fava will pop right out.
- Speed Tip: To increase your peeling speed, gather up a large amount of fava beans in your dominate hand. Pinch each fava between your thumb and index finger, using your other hand to rip a hole in the skin while you squeeze the fava, popping it loose.
I've Got Prepped Fava Beans....Now What?
Once the favas have been blanched and peeled, the fun part really begins. Favas have a meaty yet tender texture that is unique only to them. Their green, slightly mineral taste just screams spring. They're also known to taste much better if you didn't actually prep them yourself.
Early this spring we did a Fava Pizza that combined fresh beans, greens and pecorino. The fava greens were placed on the crust with the beans, pecorino and raw tomato sauce lightly sprinkled on top. The pizza was cooked at around 850-900°F in our wood burning oven. The intense heat cooks the pizza in less then 90 seconds, first wilting and intensifying the flavor of the greens, then slightly charring them right before it's pulled from the oven.
Another dish recently served at Stella was our crispy trotter terrine with sautéd favas, wilted frisée and a simple pan reduction. The saltiness of the cured trotter paired nicely with fresh favas. Wilted frisée adds just enough bite to bring the other flavors into focus.
Here are a few more tried and true flavor pairings to help get you going.
- For a Mediterranean inspired meal, try serving roasted rack of lamb with fava beans sautéd in a little garlic and olive oil. Right before you serve, transfer the hot favas to a mixing bowl and add a little Greek Yogurt, a dab of honey and some mint chiffonade. Season with some fresh cracked black pepper and finish with a pan reduction sauce that uses a good aged sherry vinegar for your acid component.
- Pan roasted duck breast and sautéd favas seasoned with walnut oil and orange zest. Finish with a knob of fresh butter and a pinch of finely minced sage.
- If you want to feature fava beans as a dish unto themselves, try sautéing with whole butter and thinly sliced shallots. When the favas are nice and warm, finish with a shot of balsamic vinegar and then garnish with shaved pecorino, prosciutto and a drizzle of good olive oil.