When thinking about what worked well this Thanksgiving and what to make into their own posts I knew immediately that this years green bean casserole was going to be a focus. Each item this year found meaning and purpose on my list of “why this dish”. You see, I don’t like just doing the spread because everyone does it. I want there to be meaning and purpose in what I make, especially when it’s for a holiday or traditional feast. I will admit I didn’t set out to do that this year but as I honed in on my menu things started to fall into place. Then when the dishes started coming together I really saw why this is MY thanksgiving menu.
Green bean casserole has a bit of a funny history to it. It was originally created as a marketing campaign by the Campbell Soup Company in 1955. It was created as a dish that would be quick and easy based around two things most Americans had in their pantries: Canned Green Beans and Cream of Mushroom Soup. Today it’s kind of funny to think of “most Americans” having those items on hand. Some how it found its way in to the hearts of many Americans, enough so that it became a key signature dish to this day on many Thanksgiving tables.
Over this last year I started really thinking about dishes, how they are cooked, and what’s wrong with them in my opinion. I started deconstructing the dishes and putting them bak together in a way that made more sense to me. In the end I believe that I ended up with far superior dishes. A good examples of this were this summer when I reimagined my Mediterranean Chicken with Zucchini and Mushrooms as well as my Shrimp and Tofu Thai Green Curry.
It as only inevitable that this approach would somehow show up on my Thanksgiving table and what better dish than this classic. With all of the rich and heavy foods on the traditional Thanksgiving table I really wanted both a vegetable and something fresh. This got me thinking about the vegetables I was using and how sad over baked green beans smothered in cream is to me. I do love the flavor combination but I felt like there had to be a better way.
A few years ago I tried a sauté that was topped with crispy bacon. This was ok but didn’t wow me. The cream just ended up in the bottom of the bowl.
One of the other problems I have with casseroles is not everyone gets the same amount of yumminess. Some people might get more topping some more green beans, and some more sauce. Then last year Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper started Magnolia Journal. The first issue was for fall and featured some of her recipes. One was for her great bean casserole. This was a perfectly good recipe however it was both still a casserole and the cream sauce was super thick. It tasted great but was almost a paste. Add to that if you reheated leftovers the sauce would slip really badly and there was no semblance of cream.
This year when I thought about my Green Bean “Casserole” I decided it was time to deconstruct the dish and see if I could help it along and tackle all my issues. I wanted fresh, creamy, crunchy… not too much to ask for right? So I separated it into three parts. The topping, the sauce, and the vegetables.
First thing was to think of this in manageable servings and forgo the “casserole”. Since I would be serving this all week long with my new approach to Thanksgiving I knew I needed to portion out the vegetables and cook them each day just before serving. I weighed out my green beans and mushrooms and made baggies that were two servings as it would just be my husband and I. I then sliced up all the onion I would need for the week and put it in a separate container so I could quickly fry up what I needed as I needed it. Then lastly was the sauce. I made Joanna’s sauce again and I think this year it came out even thicker. The second day I served this, even with lowering the power on the microwave, the sauce still split. Trying to save it that second night I happened to have some extra cream in the fridge so I add equal parts. I then stirred it up quickly and ended up with the perfect consistency.
As for the green beans and mushrooms I threw them into my wok with a little oil and some salt and pepper. Once the green beans were vibrant I poured in just a little turkey stock, tossed quickly, covered and let them steam for a minute or two. Then it was just a matter of serving it up. A nice pice of freshly sautéed vegetables, the cream sauce, and the fried onions. Everyone got the exact same amount of vegetable, sauce, and topping, not to mention it’s a fun presentation. This dish ultimately made me thankful that I not only continue to grow as a cook but apply what I learn, and that persistence can find delicious results.