This week, we’re spotlighting recipes from The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji López-Alt (W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.). The book is based on The Food Lab column López-Alt writes for Serious Eats.
Photograph by J. Kenji López-Alt
Upgraded Green Bean Casserole
Serves 6 to 8
This recipe would not be possible without blanching. Put raw green beans in a casserole, and they simply won’t cook through. The classic Campbell’s green bean casserole is a staple on many American tables, particularly around the holidays, but there are some easy ways you can improve on the out-of-the-can version.
Here’s the deal: If the only thing you do is substitute fresh green beans for the canned variety, you’re giving your casserole a major upgrade. But substitute your own mushroom sauce made out of real mushrooms (using chicken stock and a splash of soy add a big umami boost to the dish) instead of canned cream of mushroom soup and top the whole thing off with some crisply fried shallots, and you can proudly say goodbye to Sandra Lee and proclaim that semi-homemade is a thing of the past.
My fried shallots were inspired by Thai-style fried shallots, something that you should have on hand in your kitchen all the time. I make mine in batches of a couple pounds (to cook more than what’s called for in this recipe, increase the amount of oil so that the shallots are just barely poking out of the surface). Add them to sandwiches or soups, use as a garnish for cooked meats, or just eat ’em straight out of the jar. Sometimes I forget to hide the jar and come home to find the sweet smell of shallots on my wife’s breath. She, of course, blames the dog. As far as I know, the dog has yet to figure out how to leave a keyboard covered with greasy little fingerprints.
Note: Homemade fried shallots rock, but you can also get them prefried in Thai or Vietnamese markets.
1½ pounds button mushrooms, cleaned
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
2 cups homemade or low-sodium canned chicken stock
1½ cups heavy cream
1 recipe Fried Shallots (recipe follows), plus 2 tablespoons of the strained oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium cloves garlic, finely minced or grated on a Microplane (about 2 teaspoons)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds green beans, ends trimmed and cut into 2-inch segments
Smash the mushrooms under the bottom of a large skillet until broken into ¼- to ½-inch pieces. Roughly chop into ⅛- to ¼-inch pieces. Set aside.
Combine the soy sauce, lemon juice, chicken stock, and cream in a 1-quart liquid measure or medium bowl. Set aside.
Heat the shallot oil and butter in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until the butter melts and the foaming subsides. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until their liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms begin to sizzle, 6 to 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-high, add the garlic, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden blond, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, add the stock and cream mixture. Bring to a boil, whisking, then reduce to a simmer, and cook, whisking, until the mixture has a consistency somewhere between pancake batter and heavy cream, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Bring 4 quarts water and ¼ cup kosher salt to boil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Fill a large bowl with 4 cups ice cubes and 2 quarts water. Add the green beans to the boiling water and cook until tender but still green, about 7 minutes. Drain and immediately transfer to the ice water to cool completely; drain well.
Combine the green beans, mushroom sauce, and 1 cup of the fried shallots in a bowl. Transfer to a 9-by-13-inch rectangular casserole or 10-by-14-inch oval casserole. Bake until hot and bubbly, 15 to 20 minutes. Top with the remaining fried shallots and serve.
Makes about 2 cups
1 pound shallots, sliced ⅛ inch thick, preferably on a mandoline
2 cups canola oil
Line a rimmed baking sheet with 6 layers of paper towels. Combine the shallots and oil in a wok or medium nonstick saucepan; the shallots should barely stick up above the oil. Place over high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots are completely soft, about 20 minutes. Then continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the shallots are light golden brown, about 8 minutes. Immediately drain in a fine-mesh strainer set over a heatproof bowl or saucepan; set the shallot oil aside.
Transfer the fried shallots to the paper towels. Then lift up one end of the top layer of towels and roll the shallots off onto the second one. Blot with the first towel to absorb excess oil, then repeat, transferring the shallots from one layer of paper towels to the next, until only one layer remains. Season well with salt and allow to cool completely, about 45 minutes.
Once they are cooled, transfer the shallots to an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 3 months. The cooled and strained shallot oil can be used for salad dressing or stir-fries
Replace the shallots with peeled whole garlic cloves. Place the garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 8 to 10 times, scraping down the sides and redistributing the garlic as necessary, until it is chopped into pieces no larger than ⅛ inch across. Cook as directed—the garlic may cook a little faster, but do not let it get beyond golden brown, or it will become very bitter. The key is to drain the garlic about 15 to 20 seconds before you think it is completely done, as it will continue to cook after draining. It may take a couple of trials to get the exact timing down, but the results are worth it.
Reprinted with permission from The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji López-Alt (W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.)
More Thanksgiving recipes: