Returning to college after Thanksgiving, during my freshman year, I first learned that Green Bean Casserole was not a secret family recipe. I was a little crushed, and a lot embarrassed that I never noticed that the recipe is plastered on cans of fried onions and cream of mushroom soup. To me, it was a special dish that reserved for holidays and turned plain frozen green beans into a creamy, luxurious dish.
I like to think that there is a history behind the food that we eat. In the case of Green Bean Casserole, there is history. Dorcas Reilly created it in 1955 in the Campbell’s Soup kitchens.
This dish has graced many Thanksgiving tables in America, not just because it was printed on the cans of soup, but the flavor affinities of the ingredients come together to make something better than the starting ingredients.
The neutral-flavored green beans carry the umami-filled mushroom sauce to our lips, with the fried onions’ textural crunch. The soup adds in the creamy richness to coat our tongues with flavor.
I want to show you how to create this dish with all of the same flavor components. But reducing the amount of heavy sauce and cooking your own crispy fried shallots and mushrooms. Also, you can substitute butter for oil and make the recipe vegan.
The Green Beans
Fresh green beans are easy to come by at the end of fall. Using fresh beans gives you more control of the final product, but I still taste a few beans every time I cook them. You want the beans cooked all the way but not overcooked. Tasting is the only way to know for sure. If you need to use frozen green beans, it will work okay, but you should not need to cook the beans for as long at the end.
I started with my basic green bean recipe to make this dish and then added in the layers of the fried onions, mushrooms at the beginning, and sauce at the end.
I also want the dish easy to put together. Although not as easy as the original green bean casserole. We will use only one pan, layering in the components to build flavor.
For a regular weeknight dinner, I would make this recipe, just omitting the onion frying section.
Frying the onions is the most complicated step. I don’t like to fry food because of the splattering oil. But the frying isn’t that hard. We will use the pan to make the rest of the dish anyway. Simply drain off the used oil, let any flour particles sink to the bottom, and then pour back in a tablespoon to cook the mushrooms.
I used a shallot because one is just the right size. You could use a portion of a small onion or a few inside rings from a larger one. The crispy fried onions take this dish to the next level.
Mushrooms boost the flavor with their natural umami. This will substitute for the canned soup, which provides a creamy sauce in addition to the mushrooms. We will still have sauce, but less of it in the last step.
Making this dish in one pan is easier to avoid cleaning. A non-stick skillet makes cleaning easy between frying the onions and cooking the mushrooms. Also, the mushrooms won’t stick. I used a 10-inch skillet for a half-pound of green beans. If you have a larger skillet, you could add more beans.
Beurre manié is French for kneaded butter. The term is now known as the name of the technique to thicken a sauce. When you combine butter and flour to make a paste, the butter coats the flour particles, allowing us to add flour at the end of the recipe. This method will give us a saucy texture without a lot of work.
Sautéed Green Bean Non-Casserole
Makes 4 side portions or 2 large portions
- 1 shallot
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 tablespoon oil or softened butter
- ½ cup oil
- 1 & ½ cups sliced cremini or button mushrooms
- 8 ounces of green beans, ends removed, cut in half if desired
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons dry white wine
- 1 cup of water
- salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
- Slice the shallot into thin rounds. Separate the shallot slices to make individual rings. Toss the shallot rings with 2 tablespoons of flour, remove the shallots dusting off any remaining, and set aside. Save the remaining flour. You should have about 1 tablespoon, and combine it with 1 tablespoon of oil or softened butter, mix well to make a paste, set this aside to use at the end.
- Heat 10-inch large sauté pan with ½ cup oil. When the oil reaches 350 °F, cook the floured shallot rings in the oil until lightly brown. Remove the fried shallots, set on a paper towel, and sprinkle with a little salt. Let the oil cool slightly and pour into a heatproof bowl. Wipe down the pan to use again.
- Let the cooked flour settle to the bottom and add 1 tablespoon of the clean oil at the top back into the pan. Turn the heat on medium and add the sliced mushrooms to the oil. Cook for 5–7 minutes, occasionally turning until browned. Add the beans, garlic, and salt. Cook for about 1–3 minutes, or until the garlic is barely brown. Add the white wine and continue cooking uncovered until the wine has evaporated. Add the water and cover the pan, cooking about 2–3 minutes more until the beans are tender.
- Remove the lid and add in the oil/butter-flour paste and stir until the sauce is thickened. Cover and cook on low heat for 3–5 minutes more. Taste and add salt and pepper if desired. Serve right away, topped with the fried shallot rings, or keep warm for up to 30 minutes adding the shallot rings right before serving.
Make a fresh green bean dish this year.
The combination of mushrooms, green beans, and onions are more than just a tradition. The natural flavor affinities work together to make a dish better than the starting ingredients. Using fresh ingredients and a quick-cooking method, you can recreate the classic green bean casserole’s flavors in a light and simple dish. Try this easy recipe on a memorable holiday or just on a regular weeknight.
Julie Moreno is a chef and writer, now trying to get more people to cook their own food and understand where it comes from. She lives in the middle of California, where she’s learning to landscape with fruits and vegetables. Find her on her blog Food Demystified, Twitter @juliehouse, and Facebook @fooddemystified