Is there a more controversial Thanksgiving side dish than the green bean casserole? Mid-westerners, who love themselves a hotplate, say it’s the perfect comfort food—green beans gussied up with cream of mushroom soup—while detractors would gladly leave it at the other end of the table.
Dorcas Reilly, who worked in the Campbell Soup Company test kitchen, invented the Green Bean Bake in 1955 when she was asked to come up with a vegetable side dish that incorporated Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. The recipe has evolved since then, but even ardent fans have to admit the casserole does have a tendency to get a little soggy. And yet, when it’s done well or, hell, even reinvented by an ambitious host, green bean casserole can be the standout side of the evening, leaving guests hoping there might be leftovers.
Which is exactly why we’ve asked chefs across the country, who have an affinity for the dish, how to make the classic casserole more a little less staid. Below, tips and ideas that may bend the definition of casserole a bit.
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Ditch The Canned Green Beans
Instead, blanch fresh green beans until they are tender-crisp, but still bright green, suggests Paula Hingley, founder of How to Make Dinner. After you shock the beans in cold water, toss them with some garlic olive oil and arrange them in a wide casserole dish so they have some room. “Then I’d top the whole thing with a mixture of grated fresh Parmesan and flaked almonds, and broil for about 10 minutes until the topping is crisp and golden brown,” Hingley says.
Focus on Quality Ingredients
Los Angeles-based chef Mary Payne Moran, suggests adding in thick cut bacon or a pancetta and using shiitake mushrooms instead of canned or button mushrooms. Also, bake the casserole with a higher quality cream like a crème fraîche.
Grill Your Mushrooms
Tanner Agar, owner of Rye restaurant in McKinney, Texas, suggests forgetting the canned mushrooms and opting for locally grown ones instead. “We’re major fans of enoki, oyster and shiitake mushrooms.” You can also try “tobacco frying” them. “That means using a heavily seasoned flour so the shallots fry and turn dark brown like a wet leaf tobacco,” Agar says. “They help flavor the beans and contrast against all the heavy cream.” Also, says Agar, reach for shallots when it comes to the topping.
Don’t Forget The Cheese
Chef Jill Dedinsky, of Goddess and Grocer in Chicago, simplifies it for us: 1. Blanch fresh green beans. 2. Slice and sauté mushrooms for your own mushroom sauce. 3. Slice an onion super thin and coat it with flour and fry it. And for an extra punch? Dedinsky says try adding in a bit of white cheddar.
Turn Up The Heat
Obviously, green beans taste way better with some heat. Chef Justine Kelly, co-founder of the meal kit delivery service Sun Basket, says to up the veggies and the spice factor by using roasted red peppers, onions, and an Indonesian chili paste.
Related Video: Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Leeks
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