I will admit right now that I did not want to make this dish. I did not grow up eating it, and had no nostalgic attachment. In fact, because my immigrant French and German parents had little enough knowledge of American culture when I was young, our Thanksgiving table was not the tableau of classic dishes I came to know and love later on, but more of a melange of European and North African fare revolving around a turkey stuffed with wild rice. Even so, over the years, when this dish showed up on tables I’d been invited to, or it arrived as a contribution from a well-meaning guest, it’s frozen beans, processed, condensed-soup sauce and canned fried onions left me wondering why it was a perennial favorite. Perhaps it’s not a favorite after all, but just a habit, an obligation, like the relatives you don’t want to invite for Thanksgiving, but have to, despite their bad breath and bad manners.
I have to tell you something that really surprised me. When you make this dish from all fresh ingredients, like shitakes, and snappy green beans…
…and thinly sliced crisp onions that you dust with a little flour and flash fry to a golden brown…
…and soak the shitakes and some dried porcini in hot chicken stock or your homemade turkey stock…
…make a simple buttery roux…
…add the stock, then a little cream, and the mushrooms to create a velvety, richly nuanced sauce….
… add it to the beans and some of the fried onions, then top the whole thing off with more fried onions, you end up with a dish that explains why, somewhere along the line, (when people were still making it from real ingredients and it wasn’t part of a cream soup advertising campaign), it became a cherished Thanksgiving tradition. It’s worth making, and worth inviting to your table every year for Thanksgiving…and for any hearty fall/winter meal in between too.
PS. If you love mushrooms like I do…Just make the mushroom sauce part of this recipe alone, it is fantastic! I wanted to drink it! Think about pouring it over egg noodles to accompany a beef or pork roast, or pasta with shaved parmesan, or as a sauce for a seared filet mignon, or as a puddle to put seared scallops on top of, as the liquid aspect of a pot pie, as a base to bake scalloped potatoes or fennel in, as a base to make a great soup from (just add more stock and it’s done!)….I could go on…
Fresh Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Onions
SERVES 6 – 8
3 cups low sodium chicken stock (or homemade turkey, or chicken stock)
1/2 oz. fresh shiitake mushrooms, wiped off and stemmed
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
Kosher salt, to taste
2 lbs. green beans, cut into 2″ pieces
High heat stable vegetable oil for frying
1 1/4 cups flour
2 small yellow onions, thinly sliced
5 tbsp. butter
1/3 cup heavy cream or half and half
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Bring stock to a boil in a small pot. Remove from heat; add dried and fresh mushrooms. Cover; let soak for 20 minutes. Strain and set aside mushrooms, chopping the dried porcini into smaller pieces; reserve broth and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil. Take a large bowl, fill it half-way with ice, and add enough cold water for the ice to be moving around freely. Add green beans to the boiling water; cook until well-blanched but not too tender (they will cook further in the casserole and you don’t want them to be limp), 4-5 minutes. Drain beans and immediately submerge in ice bath to stop the cooking process and preserve their bright green color. Once the beans are chilled through, (a minute of two), drain them and pat dry.
3. Put 1 cup flour into a bowl. Working in batches, toss onions in flour; shake off excess and hold aside. Pour oil into a large pot to a depth of 2″. Heat over medium-high heat until oil registers 350° on a deep-fry thermometer. If you don’t have a thermometer, than wait until the oil is very wavy and test it with a small piece of the dredged onion. If the oil rapidly “boils” around the onion, then it’s ready, if the onion sinks and only has a small amount of bubbles around it the oil is not hot enough. Once the oil seems hot enough, regulate the temperature of your heat downward to maintain the heat, but not get the oil to hot.
4. Fry the onions until golden brown, 2-3 minutes, fishing them out of the oil with a slotted spoon. Transfer to a paper towel–lined plate and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
5. Heat oven to 375°. Grease an 8″ × 8″ casserole with 1 tbsp. butter; set aside. Melt remaining butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in remaining flour; cook for 3-4 minutes, whisking often. Pour in reserved broth while whisking; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened, 7-10 minutes. Whisk in cream and add mushrooms and cook for 1-2 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. In a large bowl, combine beans, half the fried onions, and the mushroom sauce. Transfer to casserole dish. Top with remaining onions; bake until onions crisp up and the casserole is heated through and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately. (If making ahead, do not bake. Wrap the dish tightly with plastic wrap and hold until the day of. Remove from fridge two hours before dinner to bring to room temperature. Remove plastic wrap. Bake as per instructions.)