Wednesday, August 24, 2011
How to Overcook Green Beans, pt. 1
The first slender, delicate green beans of summer--those véritable haricots verts--are things of beauty, indeed, and in preparing them you must watch over the cooking time nearly to the second, a minor kitchen tragedy if they go even a shade past tender-crisp. Just blanched or steamed off-raw, tossed with good butter or a slick of walnut oil, scattered over a salade nicoise, they're a treat worth anticipating through the bean-less months. They can even be consumed raw, and with great pleasure.
But as the season wears on, if you miss a day or two of picking in your garden, and the market offerings swell past pencil-thick, the beans call for a different sort of treatment. They're still perfectly edible, more than palatable, but they've developed a good deal more...beaniness, perhaps, as the seeds swell, the shell thickens. They don't need the kid glove, dainty-doily treatment at this stage, and in fact long cooking can bring out a savory side of them you won't get in a quick blanch.
For this preparation the cast iron skillet is our friend, as is companionable bacon. Then a bit of onion, maybe a sprig of thyme, dash of salt, and time--that's the recipe. At Bide-A-Wee we'll often do this sort of dish on the campfire or woodstove, lacking an oven. But the oven is great, too, if not so picturesque. The dark, shiny things in the skillet, those are pieces of bacon rind--use it if you have it.
Here's all you do: wash and stem a fistful of beans per person. For each two people, a good thick slice of bacon, diced about 1/3-inch. Again for two, a small onion, roughly chopped. On campfire or stovetop (needn't be a woodstove, any fuel source is fine) heat a skillet big enough to hold the beans in one layer, more or less. Add the bacon, and as it starts to render fat, add the beans. Toss often, cook a long time, at least a half hour. Halfway through, add the onion. Stir occasionally until the beans are tender, dark, even black, in spots. Be careful about the onions, which will become bitter if they get too dark. Add a little salt at the end, a grind of pepper.
Oven version, heat at 375, ovenproof skillet, of course: add the bacon to the skillet and put it in the oven for 5 minutes. Bring it out and add the beans, tossing to coat with fat. Bake 20 minutes. Add the onion, toss well, bake another 20. Finish as above.
It's a really lovely side dish to anything--or part of an all-vegetable meal--from August until the frost. To make it vegetarian, skip the bacon and toss the beans with olive oil. We sometimes add a few cloves of garlic in their jackets.
How to Overcook Green Beans, pt. 2 will take up Sichuan dry-fried beans.
Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw