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Cooking Green Beans for More Flavor

A leisurely simmer helps green beans become deliciously tender

Fine Cooking Issue 53
Photos: Scott Phillips
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I almost always cook slender, beautiful haricots verts briefly. These small French green beans don’t need more than a flash in a sauté pan or a rapid blanching in boiling water, just long enough to get crisp-tender. But when I have a pile of thicker, more mature green beans on my hands, I choose a completely different approach.

For beans like these, I get the most flavorful results by longer cooking—specifically, by simmering them on the stovetop. The technique gives the beans a chance to release their flavor, meld with the other ingredients in the dish, and develop a soft, yielding texture that’s very appealing. I don’t mean to suggest that I cook beans until they’re mushy. Fifteen to thirty minutes in a skillet is sufficient to draw out flavor and get the fork-tender texture I like.

Tips for prepping green beans

  • Be sure to start with fresh, snappy green beans.
  • Gather a small bunch and cut off the stem ends. The thin, pointy end that looks like a tail can also be trimmed, though it’s not necessary unless it’s especially tough.
  • If you’re serving the beans for a party, cutting them into halves or thirds makes eating them a little easier. Slice them on the bias for more visual interest.
Trimming and cutting goes a lot faster if you gather a handful of beans in a neat bunch so their ends are aligned.

A simple technique that bends to your tastes

I start by heating oil or butter in a pan, adding an aromatic ingredient like onion, and then adding the green beans along with a liquid, which could be water, broth, or the juices from canned tomatoes (along with the tomatoes themselves). Depending on how much of a sauce you want to end up with, you can add more or less liquid.

Simmer the beans long enough to cook them through completely; they should be just starting to collapse and get wrinkly. I like the term “fork-tender” to describe their doneness. Another way to check doneness is to just pick up a bean and taste it. It should be completely tender, not merely “crisp-tender” or al dente.

A wide sauté pan and a little bit of liquid lets the beans simmer gently. Add enough liquid to halfway surround the beans.
“Fork-tender” means you can easily pierce the beans with the tines. Taste a bean; it should be completely tender.

Long-cooked green beans won’t have the vibrant greenness they get from blanching, but you can help them look their best by cooking them without a lid. Covering the pan causes acids to build up, which dulls the beans’ color—although not their flavor. Even without the lid, they’ll still fade a little. I don’t worry about it. Green beans cooked this way will win you over with their extra tenderness and terrific flavor.


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