Monday, December 5, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner: Green Bean Casserole

My first proper Thanksgiving meal was in the projects of San Antonio where my mother had consigned me to child slavery volunteering for the less fortunate.  It's strange to remember my perspective as a child.  I didn't quite understand how the people we were serving were "less fortunate."  Everyone seemed to be laughing, eating, and having a great time.  No one was sucking on gasoline rags or had flies crawling all over their faces.  Where were the suffering masses?  How was I to live out my Savior complex and practice my benevolent, Mother Theresa face?  As a ten or eleven year-old who wasn't seeing enough sorrow nor grateful teary eyes (god, I was completely delusional and annoying as a kid), I started "sampling" all the dishes.  Needless to say, the Thanksgiving spread wasn't cooked with the love and dedication of an All-American mom bent over her 100% organic turkey.  But, it was my first Thanksgiving dinner experience, and I came to understand the greatness of the Thanksgiving feast.  I also had a bread roll thrown in my face.

If I can get past the bread roll, I remember the green bean casserole.  It was watery and overcooked.  It wasn't until I had it fresh and delicious out of some loving Texan mother's kitchen (can't remember whose but I can assure you, it wasn't mine), that I my fondness for green bean casserole grew.  I love green bean casserole.  The original recipe is so easy - some Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup thrown together with some green beans and topped with French's Fried Onions.  In Korea, all three of these ingredients would be subject to tariffs.  Who wants to pay $5 for cream of mushroom soup?  Not me. Furthermore, French's Fried Onions aren't sold in Korea.  So, I found Alton Brown's recipe in order to make the beloved dish entirely from scratch.

Green Bean Casserole
(adapted from Alton Brown)
For the topping:
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup flour
4 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 teaspoon salt
oil to grease the pan

For beans and sauce:
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 bags (9 ounces each) frozen green beans (about 4 cups thawed)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces mushrooms, de-stemmed and diced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 475 degrees F.

Mix the flour, bread crumbs, and salt together in a shallow dish.  Place the sliced onions in a few at a time and toss to make sure they're well-coated.  Repeat until all the onions are coated.  Grease a baking pan with oil by getting a paper towel and smearing on a very thin coat.  If you have non-stick spray, luck you.  Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.  Flip 2-3 times throughout the baking so they'll crisp up evenly.  Because the slices are all different sizes, the smaller rings will crisp up and burn much faster.  Watch the onions carefully and remove the done ones as they're ready.  The onions can be prepared a day in advance and stored in an airtight container after they're completely cooled.

For the cream of mushroom soup, melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy saucepan.  Add the mushrooms, half teaspoon salt, and half teaspoon pepper.  Cook the mushrooms down until they're giving off some liquid (4-5 minutes).  Then, add the garlic and nutmeg and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes.  Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir it in.  Cook for one minute.  Add the chicken broth and simmer for an additional minute.  Turn the heat down to medium-low and stir in the milk and heavy cream.  Cook until the soup thickens (about 6-8 minutes).  This soup can be prepared a day in advance and refrigerated until it's ready to be used.  Warm it up before making the casserole.

Bring a gallon of salted water (about 2 tablespoon salt) to a boil.  Boil the green beans for 5 minutes then drain them in a colander and run them under ice cold water to stop the cooking.  If you like your beans super tender, cook them for 7 minutes.

Roughly chop about 1/4 of the fried onions.

Combine the cooked beans, cream of mushroom, and 1/4 of the chopped fried onions in a casserole dish.  Top with the fried onion topping and bake in the oven at 450 degrees F for about 35 minutes or until the mixture is all hot and bubbly.  Wrap foil over the top if you're concerned that the onions will burn.

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