Culinary Institute: Green Bean Casserole
"Whoever invented it should be in the Smithsonian," Eli Kulp, culinary director and co-owner of High Street on Hudson, jokes.
He's referring to green bean casserole, that holy trinity of canned beans, cream of mushroom soup and jarred french-fried onions. It's the side dish we lovingly refer to as the extended family of holiday foods: a love-it-or-hate-it item we get to see only once a year.
"I think everyone has this experience of certain foods that are really iconic and you remember them a certain way," Zoe Schor, chef of Split Rail in Chicago, says. "But then you go back and eat them, and it's just not quite the same."
That's why we're tapping chefs around the country who are giving the dish a makeover, and thankfully, they're spilling the, well, you know on how you can make the ultimate green bean casserole at home.
No Can Do
The original recipe was developed by a woman named Dorcas Reilly—who, Kulp should note, does not yet have her own museum exhibit. The dish was made for the sake of convenience, but trust us when we say it's worth making every component from scratch. And don't worry: It's easier than you think.
"I think the best way for home cooks to upgrade their green bean casserole is to use a high-quality, petit string bean like a haricot vert," Kulp says. Unlike frozen or canned versions that devolve into gray mush, fresh beans add a variety of textures in the finished dish: The vegetables stay vibrantly crunchy in the rich, creamy sauce. All you have to do is blanch the beans until they're crisp but tender; shocking them afterward in ice water ensures your casserole stays a bright-green color.
When it comes to the sauce, Schor simply sautés oyster and cremini mushrooms until they're golden brown before tossing them into a basic béchamel. She then blankets the blanched green beans with the sauce before covering them with fried shallots (see the recipe).
When put together, the words casserole and healthy might be an oxymoron, but you can still add bright flavors to pep up this traditionally heavy dish. "I add lemon zest, parsley and green onions to help cut the richness of the casserole," Katy Smith, chef of Puesto in San Diego, says. She also recommends adding diced fresh chiles like serranos to give some heat. Meanwhile, Schor showers her version with lively fresh herbs, such as dill, tarragon and basil, and sprinkles pink peppercorns on top.
Expand Your Horizons
It's hard to find something that fried onions and a creamy mushroom sauce won't improve. If green beans aren't your preferred vegetable, do what Schor occasionally does and swap them out for other fall produce, such as roast Brussels sprouts or broccoli.
Though, if you're like Kulp and enjoy semi-homemade, do what he'll be doing this year: Make a cheffed-up version for one half of your plate and a classic, Campbell's-laden casserole for the other.
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