Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Best Green Beans Ever

For years (and years) I have sworn by green beans made the way that I learned from Julia Child. You know the drill: bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, drop in your green beans, boil until just tender, shock in cold water, and later finish by sauteeing either in butter or olive oil with some salt and pepper. And perhaps a pureed clove of garlic.

Green beans prepared in this manner are splendid, and I could easily make my dinner from a large plateful of them. They're also convenient: you can do everything except the finishing a couple of hours before you serve dinner, and they'll still be bright green and yummy when you finish them in time to accompany your main course.

But I was aware, of course, that there were other ways to prepare green beans. In fact, it suddenly occurs to me that I've been over all this ground in my last post on green beans, and that I should probably go back and delete or rewrite the first two paragraphs of this post, because surely in my last green bean post, I wrote about Ms. Child. And surely I wrote about my childhood green bean experiences.

But fear not, readers, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all people. For unto you this day is born in the city of David. Or at least, I'm about to cover some new ground.

When I was in NYC a couple of weeks ago, I stopped in at Kitchen Arts and Letters and bought, among other things, Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie. I'd been meaning to buy it for a long time: I have been interested in charcuterie for many years, and the book comes highly recommended by Lindy. So I bought it. Right now, in fact, it's in a bag in the bottom of the shoulder bag that I lugged to NYC, but before I packed it, I flipped quickly through the pages and salivated. I didn't read anything in great detail, but my eyes landed on the section about confits. I felt myself getting sucked into the sections on goose and duck, so I quickly moved on and noticed a brief mention of vegetables. I believe there was something about confited (I will not look up the word, I will not look up the word, I will not look up the word; oh all right! Yes, "confited" is acceptable.) onions. I also thought of a story I'd heard on NPR about butter-poached scallops, which seemed to use something of the same approach.

And I had an idea. It seemed like a good idea, so I filed it away for another day.

Late last year, around Christmas, (thanks, in part, to this post, again by Lindy), I acquired a pre-seasoned Lodge cast iron dutch oven. It is a thing of beauty, and if I still haven't gotten around to using it to bake bread, I'm sure that I will eventually. In any case, it gives me a feeling of immense comfort knowing that I have something so solid hidden away in a box where V. won't find it and pitch a fit that I've bought yet another large pot in the cupboard.

Now that V. is off for three weeks in Ethiopia, I have the opportunity to do a lot more cooking. I wanted to make something special, something different, something that would make a good use of my nifty (and very heavy) new pot. So I took my idea with me to Costco, where I acquired one of their two-pound packages of thin, snipped haricots verts, a bag of garlic, and large amounts of extra virgin olive oil and unsalted butter.

Then I came home, and I made the best green beans ever.

I'll admit that I created this recipe in part to do something a little bit ridiculous and over the top, but I always thought that the final result would be pretty good. I didn't know that it would be so good that I'd actually feel like repeating the preparation: after all, the other versions of green beans are also very good, and this one takes a lot of time. But I'm going to make these green beans again and again. For one thing, the work involved is really not that onerous. They take a long time to make, but you don't really have to do anything -- except check the pot now and again to make sure they're not too hot, and if you have a probe thermometer with a temperature-sensitive alarm, you're home free on that count -- while they're cooking. Besides, if you make this dish, you'll have used two pounds of fat that will almost all be left over at the end of the cooking. That fat probably isn't good for much other than confiting more vegetables, but it would be a shame to throw it away when you can keep it in a quart tub in the back of the refrigerator and make more of these green beans whenever you feel like it.

And what's more, beans prepared in this manner will last for a good while in the refrigerator, just waiting for you to warm them up and eat them. And you could make a larger batch just as easily, and I feel sure that the same preparation will work with common (i.e., larger) supermarket green beans. Most importantly: they're awesome.

Confit d'haricots verts à l'ail

2 pounds green beans, trimmed, rinsed, and dried
1 pound unsalted butter
2 cups olive oil
2 heads garlic
Salt (see note below)

In the bottom of a very heavy pot, melt half of the butter over low heat.

Separate the garlic into cloves. Peel the cloves but leave them whole.

Add the grean beans and the garlic cloves to the pot. Put the rest of the butter on top of the vegetables, then put the lid on the pot and let the butter melt. Then add the olive oil. It should cover or nearly cover the vegetables.

Put the lid back on the pot and heat until the temperature is about 200 degrees. At this point, the water from the beans and the butter will start to bubble out. Remove the lid and let the water evaporate. Try to maintain the temperature at about the same level. If browned butter solids rise to the surface, skim them off and lower the heat slightly.

Cover the pot and continue to cook at about the same temperature. Cook for a total of three hours. Turn the heat off. Fish out the garlic cloves with a pair of tongs (some of them will break up: don't worry) and reserve them separately. Drain the beans and refrigerate the beans and the fat separately.

When you're ready to eat some green beans, Put a non-stick skillet over moderate heat. Add as many green beans as you want to the skillet. (No matter how thoroughly you drain them, you won't need to add any additional fat to cook them in. Neither will they taste greasy.) Mash one of the softened cloves of garlic and add it to the green beans. Toss until heated through, and season generously with salt and pepper. Devour.

(Note below.) When I started the green beans cooking, I hadn't added any salt with the butter and the olive oil. About an hour in, I added about two teaspoons of coarse salt. As far as I can tell, none of the salt ended up in the beans or the garlic, so I'm not sure it really helps anything to add it during the cooking time: you will still have to salt them when you saute them.

You will have a lot more garlic than you need for this amount of beans. The extra garlic (with a bit of the oil and butter that it was cooked in) can be mashed to make a terrific spread for bread. Unless you forget to add salt to it, in which case it will make a very bland spread for bread.

You can, of course, confit the green beans and the garlic separately and add some confited garlic to the confited beans when you're sauteing the beans. You could do a lot more garlic that way. In fact, you could do the whole bag of garlic and keep it in the refrigerator to make your bread delicious for weeks or months to come. Again: don't be shy with the salt. Both the green beans and the garlic have sat in a bath of fat for several hours and have developed absolutely wonderful flavors, but without salt, they'll be a lot like vegetables boiled in unsalted water.


Blogger Linda said...

Ha! I recently bought the exact same bag (well, okay, a similar bag) of beautiful green beans on my first ever trip to the new local Costco. I love, love, love that place.

This looks really, really, good.

6:14 AM  
Blogger the chocolate lady מרת שאקאלאד said...

Well, the string beans are perfect this week, and the evenings are a bit cooler--If I can stay awake this evening, I will invest three hours and two pounds of fat in this recipe. I will use green garlic, also peaking this week.

Oooh, I'm so excited!

4:39 AM  
Blogger the chocolate lady מרת שאקאלאד said...

Hi, me again,
I !
They are indeed the best ever. I call these string beans, though.

8:01 PM  
Blogger the chocolate lady מרת שאקאלאד said...

I meant to say
I made them!

8:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How long will they be good in frig to reheat?

9:05 AM  

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