Saturday, January 12, 2008

Green Bean Casserole

Green Bean Casserole

First a confession: the green bean casserole you see in the picture is the very first one Steven and I have ever tasted. That is to say, we cannot attest for the tastiness of the original Campbell's recipe but I'm willing to bet this fancy pants recipe blows Campbell's out of the water. My original plan was to make this as a side dish for Thanksgiving dinner and when I told Steven of this plan he said was "Bleh, I don't like casseroles." Upon seeing or hearing the word casserole he immediate assumes the worst. I'm sure there are some bad casseroles out there but I think when done right, casseroles are comforting and delicious. I tried to convince him, "I'll be using fresh green beans and homemade mushroom cream sauce! The sauce is a French mother sauce so it has to be good!" but no, he continued to resist. Oddly enough, none of my local (5 of them) grocery stores had green beans on sale during Thanksgiving time, and I don't buy stuff at regular price (that would simply go against my Chinese upbringing), so this recipe had to wait. While I was mildly peeved that I couldn't make this traditional side dish for a traditional holiday dinner, Steven thanked the food gods that he escaped the dreaded vegetable casserole. Well, I finally did buy some green beans and he had to face the inevitable.

The original green bean casserole, created in 1955 in the Campbell's Soup Company test kitchen, is made with canned green beans, canned cream of mushroom soup, and french fried onions. Frankly, I detest canned vegetables. Canned tomatoes are perfectly fine, canned beans are also acceptable, canned corn is tolerable (though frozen corn is much better), but canned green beans? Honestly, that stuff is atrocious. I mean cmon, they don't even look green anymore! Frozen green beans are another popular choice for this dish but I'm not a fan of frozen veggies either (corn and edamame are the exception). Vegetables have to be fresh and crisp so I needed fresh green beans for this dish. Even before cooking, I knew the version I planned to make would be delicious and it was going to be even better than the Cook's Illustrated version everyone raved about when their recipe first came out. Secretly, I knew that Steven would like it because the gourmet ingredients would call to his inner foodie. First, fresh green beans, not canned green beans, so that gives me +5 foodie points. As much as I love Campbell's, I can't used cream of mushroom here because I had to go all out for this fancy foodie version. The cream sauce is made with a roux, homemade chicken stock, cream, crimini mushrooms, and porcini mushrooms, which is +10 foodie points for homemade sauce and a bonus of +20 points for using porcini mushrooms. The one thing you can't change is the french fried onions. Those have to stay on and there is no substitute. When I first bought the can of French's, Steven's first reaction "Eww gross..." but I told him that I'm sure they taste just like Funyuns and he relented. When I opened the can to scatter the pieces on top, he started, believe it or not, snacking on them (now what's gross?)! And the final foodie touch on this fancy smancy pants casserole, toasted almond slivers (another +10). The crunch and nuttiness adds the perfect finishing touch (I'm sure we can go on and on about how it adds another flavor profile, yadda yadda, but I'm sure we can all do without the food snob/Top Chef schpeel) ;) .

Steven took a bite and chewed for a very, very, very long time (he said he was chewing for the full nuttiness of the almonds). Suuuuure... But it was truly delicious, dare I say the best green bean casserole ever? Is Steven a casserole convert? We'll see. Chicken Tetrazzini has been on my to cook list for a very long time.

The Foodie's Green Bean Casserole

1 lb green beans, ends trimmed and broken into about 3 inch pieces
8 oz crimini mushrooms, chopped
1/2 oz dried porcinis
3 Tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 Tbsp flour
salt and pepper
1/2 C chicken stock
1/4 C heavy cream
1 C canned fried onions
Handful of toasted almond slivers

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Toast the almond slivers beforehand. You can toast them in a dry skillet on the stovetop over medium heat until they look golden.

Rehydrate the porcinis in 1/2 C of hot water. Using a fork, scoop out the porcinis, give them a quick rinse in some water to wash off any remaining dirt, and chop. Wet a paper towel or coffee filter and place it in a sieve. You wet the filter so it doesn't absorb the precious porcini water. Pour the porcini water through the filter. Take the filtered porcini water and add it to the 1/2 cup of chicken stock

Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the chopped crimini and porcini pieces, minced garlic, some salt and pepper, and cook until the mushrooms are starting to release their liquid. When the liquid is starting to reduce, add the beans and cook until they are bright green and still a bit crunchy, about 5 minutes. You will only bake the casserole for a few minutes in the oven so cook the beans a little less than your desired tenderness.

While the beans are cooking, make the sauce. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoon of butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Add the flour, whisk and cook until the roux is slightly golden. Slowly pour in the porcini chicken stock mixture, while continually whisking. Simmer the mixture for about a minute (if it looks too thick, add a little milk). Season with salt and pepper. Whisk in the 1/4 C of heavy cream, and add the green bean and mushroom pieces, and toss to coat.

Pour the mixture into an 8 x 8 Pyrex or equivalent baking dish. (I made a mini one for the photo and an 8 x 8). Sprinkle a cup of canned fried onions on top or more if you wish. Bake for about 5 - 10 minutes or until the onions look golden brown. (I overbaked a little so my onions are a little darker than I would like).

Sprinkle the toasted almond slivers on top and serve.

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