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Fussy Frozen Green Beans

January 15, 2019

Last week’s post about frozen broccoli was a surprise hit, and elsewhere on social media a reader asked about the other frozen vegetables I lean on during the winter months. So today, I thought I would share another staple of the vegetable side dish repertoire.

But first, I should note, that winter is still a great time to shop the local farmers markets. I was just at the Schenectady Greenmarket on Sunday and picked up a butternut squash, some beets, a cabbage, and a bag of dried beans. The winter storage crops that grow in and around the Capital Region are some of the tastiest vegetables we produce.

I also happened to find some local braising greens. Unfortunately, I was a bit distracted and forgot to ask how they were grown given that we’re currently in the heart of winter, so that will be a topic for another day.

Today, I have to start by saying, not all frozen green beans are created equal.

One’s happiness with frozen green beans probably has a lot to do with how one likes to prepare them. Perhaps if I were cooking more pots of my mother-in-law’s green bean, ham, and potato soup, then conventional frozen green beans might be more satisfying. However, that’s a preparation which involves cooking the heck out of the vegetables to the point where they are limp and lifeless.

The overcooking of vegetables is one of the reasons why people think they don’t like them. That classic Pennsylvania recipe is one of those exceptions where the overcooking of green beans makes them surprisingly good. It’s weird. I have no idea why it works. This too is a subject for another day.

When it comes to green beans, the best ones I’ve ever had were with Mrs. Fussy in Boonville, California.

We found a restaurant almost in the middle of nowhere that also had a bed and breakfast attached. So we went for an overnight years ago, and explored the town. The property had its own garden, and they used their own produce at the restaurant. But it wasn’t as much the freshness of the green beans as their preparation which knocked our socks off. It was simple, but delicious.

They were pan charred and seasoned with fresh garlic and rosemary.

Char is a wonderful thing. Up in these parts far too many people think that any color on food has rendered it burnt, and that’s an ongoing source of frustration. Not just for me, but also for restaurant owners, some of whom change their preparations to deal with local tastes and preferences.

Anyhow, this is the style of green beans I now attempt to reproduce at home using frozen vegetables. And that’s not easy. Primarily because most frozen green beans are just too darn thick, starchy, and fibrous.

Thankfully we discovered Trader Joe’s Extra Fine French Green Beans. These haricot vert are actually a product of France. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are fully intact beans that are delightfully slender. And that means with proper technique, they can be pan charred and still manage to fully cook through. It just takes a little patience, and maybe a little bit of smoke from the cast iron skillet.

Here’s the technique.

Heat a large cast iron skillet on high.
Add extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom.
When shimmering, dump in the full bag of frozen green beans.
Sprinkle them liberally with kosher salt.
Toss in the pan.
Sprinkle them liberally with more kosher salt.
Gently push them down to encourage as much pan surface contact as possible.

Now wait, without touching anything and without shaking the pan.
If you think your burner may be heating unevenly, you can rotate the pan 180 degrees.

To keep your hands busy, chop a fresh clove of garlic or two.
If using rosemary, prepare a sprig and put it to the side.

Without disturbing the pan, lift one green bean from the bottom to check for char.
The green beans on the top will not be fully cooked, that’s okay.
Once char is achieved, toss the string beans in the pan.

Reduce heat to low.
Let the remaining green beans finish cooking through in the cooling pan.
Add garlic, salt, a little more oil to coat the garlic, and rosemary if using.
Toss until the garlic has cooked through but not burned.

And you’re done.

The whole thing takes fewer than ten minutes, and it’s delicious. One pan. No prep. No washing vegetables. Just open a bag from the freezer, smash a garlic clove, and you’re good to go. You can even skip the garlic. There are other even easier ways to flavor these green beans too. I’ve used different finishing oils, like toasted hazelnut oil which is especially wonderful if you’re pairing these beans with roasted butternut squash or sweet potatoes.

There’s also toasted sesame seed oil if you are going with more Asian flavors. If you like them sweet, drizzle on a little balsamic once they’re out of the pan. Variations are only limited by your imagination.

Good luck and happy cooking.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Eric Scheirer Stott permalink
    January 15, 2019 8:05 pm

    bless you

  2. Debra permalink
    January 22, 2019 1:34 pm

    I also liked cooking them in butter and maple syrup. So good.

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