Help me copycat these green beans!
April 14, 2021 6:33 AM   Subscribe

A local restaurant makes these green beans that are really delicious. Please help me figure out how to replicate them.

The restaurant in question is a little storefront place that serves open-hearth roasted chicken, ribs and steaks, plus sides and Texas toast. One of the sides is green beans, which at most places are kind of meh but at this place they are surprisingly good. I'd like to be able to replicate something close to this at home.

The website menu offers no clues. They are simply listed as "green beans" (so not "steamed green beans" or anything like that.) There is absolutely no clue as to the preparation or ingredients.

The beans are very tender but not mushy, and they are a fresh green color. I'm guessing they start with fresh green beans rather than frozen.

There is a significant quantity of diced onion cooked in (yellow or white onion, not red.)

I don't see any herbs, and I don't detect any garlic.

I don't see any hint of meat, so no salt pork, bacon or ham.

I don't detect any butter. I refrigerated the leftovers in their container and I don't see any flecks of congealed butter or fat whatsoever. The beans themselves do not feel oily but if I run my finger around the inside of the container, there is a very slight oily residue.

They have a subtle flavor I can't put my finger on. The beans themselves taste salty. By which I mean, the flesh of the beans is permeated with a salty flavor. You can lick the outside of the bean and it's not particularly salty but when you chew it there is definitely salty flavor "cooked in" or something. Probably not soy sauce though.

I would not be surprised if chicken broth was involved, but I can't tell for sure. (Although that seems like the kind of thing they might mention on the menu for the sake of the occasional vegetarian customer.) The beans are served drained of any liquid or broth they might have been cooked in.

So... green beans that are very tender but not mushy, with diced onion. Subtle salty-savory flavor, not oily or buttery. How to achieve?
posted by Serene Empress Dork to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For the subtle salty flavor, I think you want to boil them in salted water (possibly much more heavily salted than you think - Samin Nosrat says something about salted cooking water being as salty as "your memory of the sea"). To keep them bright green, you will probably want to pop them in an ice water bath after cooking so that they stop cooking.

Do the diced onions seem to have been boiled/steamed or are them more like sauteed?

If I were going to try to replicate what you're talking about based on this description, I would bring salty water to a boil, cook the beans briefly (until the reached the appropriate color/tenderness) then plunge them into ice water. At the same time I would saute some onions in butter or oil, and then once those were cooked to my liking I would drain the green beans and toss them in the pan with the onions & fat to heat them back up.
posted by mskyle at 6:50 AM on April 14, 2021 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Sounds exactly like what I imagine Jacques Pepin's green beans with shallots would taste like.
posted by Ausamor at 6:52 AM on April 14, 2021 [11 favorites]

Possible they're giving them a quick brine before cooking?
posted by deludingmyself at 6:55 AM on April 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Stepping in to echo that the ice water bath is probably key here.
posted by thivaia at 7:00 AM on April 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Are they a fairly short cut green bean, or closer to whole (or maybe halved)?

I had a similar BBQ place near where I worked years ago (in Texas, so this was serious), and I am about 87% certain they started with a canned green bean, but good ones that were still pretty dark green and not that olive color of some canned beans. That's how they got that saltiness, from the canning brine. (Also a good thick green bean like a Blue Lake, not the skinnier ones.)

Just a thought for your experiments.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:36 AM on April 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Learned a trick recently from Jose Andres’ vegetable cookbook and that was sear the beans in oil and onions/shallot/whatever and next to blanch the vege in the same saucepan using far less liquid than you might customarily, and finally, after pulling the beans, to reduce that liquid to a concentrated stock and use it to sauce yer vege right before serving.
posted by notyou at 7:40 AM on April 14, 2021 [6 favorites]

Could you snap a photo of them? You can tell a lot about how something was made by the way it looks.
posted by fiercekitten at 7:48 AM on April 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

At the risk of giving advice that you've already tried, have you asked the restaurant for the recipe or at least a general outline of how they prepare them? Lots and lots of chefs/cooks are more than happy to share recipes. Then again, some aren't. The only way to know is to ask.
posted by cooker girl at 7:57 AM on April 14, 2021 [8 favorites]

Best answer: That effect is achieved by blanching briefly in rapidly boiling salted water, then shocking in an ice bath. For sure this is what's being done in a restaurant, because it saves a lot of time when you're firing the dish.

Most likely there is a dish of diced onion that's been softened in oil at the prep station, and to make the dish the cook cranks up the heat on a frypan, chucks in the green beans and a spoon of onion, then tosses it a few times until it's heated through. A good technique that I like is to dissolve gelatin in water (or white wine if you want) to make a "faux veal stock" and then splash in a little of that liquid at the last second to give the green beans the slightest hint of a sticky glaze. They should be "tender crisp" when finished (which is to say, with some snap but no squeak).
posted by slkinsey at 7:57 AM on April 14, 2021 [15 favorites]

Just call them up! I've had great luck in asking for recipes!
posted by HotToddy at 8:00 AM on April 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

You probably already thought of this, but some of the taste might come from the bean source. (For instance, maybe it's a local farm that uses a specific heirloom variety.)
posted by Glinn at 10:27 AM on April 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don’t think there’s quite enough to go on for me to hazard a guess, but I love green beans and am told I cook them really well .. people ask me how they’re cooked and then I say ..”um, just boiled “ ..bc there’s no elaborate trick. Here’s what I do: fresh green beans, snap off fibrous end where it was attached to bush. Enough water that they can all float luxuriously. Lots of kosher salt in the water. .. doesn’t have to be kosher but it’s just faster to get really salty water with rock/kosher salt than with table salt.

Once you’ve achieved rolling boil, add your beans. Cool until tender, IMO a still crunchy green bean is not ready, I don’t like even just a little bit of crunch.. but it SHOULD still be bright green, at all olive green and you’ve gone too far. It’s often around 10 minutes. There is usually a waxy, squeaky quality to the perfectly cooked bean. Remove from heat, strain , and put strained beans in a new vessel rather than back in pot, if you’re concerned about over cooking. I immediately add butter and salt and pepper , but you could dress with anything, oil and sautéed garlic , bacon fat, etc. is this the only yummy way to cook them? Certainly not, but it’s low drama and pretty fail proof, IMO. Hope this helps someone out there who loves string beans as much as I do : )
posted by elgee at 10:42 AM on April 14, 2021 [8 favorites]

FWIW, kosher salt may dissolve faster due to looser flakes and thus more surface area to soak in the water. But for use in water, it's not worth the extra cost. Just use a whisk and regular table salt to make brine.
posted by kschang at 11:52 AM on April 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Seconding elgee's suggestions. And, if boiling, 10 minutes is fine, but also try steaming at just 6 minutes (steam is hotter than boiling water).
posted by beagle at 12:01 PM on April 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Anchovy is fantastic with green beans, a very little anchovy sauce could be your salty savoury taste.
posted by tardigrade at 12:49 PM on April 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

Minor addendum: I find about 1.5% salt to be perfect for cooking vegetables (or pasta). Works the same with table salt, kosher salt, sea salt, whatever. 15 grams per liter of water, 1/2 oz per quart. (Coarse kosher/sea and iodized table have very different dry densities.) I have a salty palate, but at least 1%.
posted by supercres at 1:13 PM on April 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

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