Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Best Green Beans in the WHOLE WORLD (Sort Of)

When we lived in Upstate New York in 2000, there wasn't too much to do. The closest town had one stop sign, and the next closest town had one street light. One thing that was fun to do, though, was go to a restaurant near Woodstock called New World Home Cooking.

This restaurant has the best green beans in the whole wide world, which was part of its overall appeal. They're blackened in a super-flavorful spice mix that's just hot enough to keep you eating more and more and more. The green beans are ordered more often than any other dish the restaurant serves, and we got them every time we went there. We were, in fact, so enamored of these green beans that we used to fantasize about them.

We'd be folding laundry or driving to Deep Creek for a family visit and one of us would say, 'You know what I could go for right now? The Green Beans.'

We actually once drove from Baltimore, MD to Woodstock, NY just for these green beans. Well, really it was also to get out of town for a little mental health break, but the green beans were part of the decision-making process.

We dreamed about these tender pods of spiciness for years, and frequently discussed how they must be made. We speculated that they were most likely blackened and that the cooking process most likely resulted in a lot of smoke. We even speculated that maybe they were created accidentally.

All these questions were recently answered when a blogger posted the recipe. It turns out it's been on the restaurant's website for who knows how long, but I swear it wasn't there when I last checked about 3 or 4 years ago.

Really, though, all that mattered was that I now possessed the answers I had been seeking--they aredo create a lot of smoke, and they were created by accident. Best of all, I now knew what was in the spice mix. blackened, they

I was so excited by this discovery that I wanted to call Nick immediately to let him know that we would soon be in possession of these tasty veggies, without having to drive 5 hours for them. It was 4 in the morning, though, so I resisted the urge and instead waited to spring this revelation on my significant other until I got home in the morning.

We finally got around to trying this recipe the other night because it seemed just right with the ribs that were part of our Healthy Week menu. That is a joke, by the way.

So why are they now just 'sort of' the best green beans in the whole world? Well, there are a few reasons. First of all, we never really thought that a home-made version would be as good as the restaurant version. Sadly, restaurant dishes that are recreated at home are rarely as good as the original. These were pretty close though.

The other two problems were the spiciness and the spiciness. Now, we love hot foods, but these little guys were just a little too hot to easily enjoy. The restaurant beans will certainly light a fire in your mouth, but these beans were so spicy that, as Nick said, they'll make you pound your beer in about two minutes flat. We don't really like to play vegetable drinking games, so the recipe below has less Cayenne than the recipe on the website.

And speaking of Cayenne (the second spiciness problem), ours seems to be polluted. We long ago jettisoned the spice jars in favor of a more compact system, so our spices are kept in alphabetical order in plastic bags. For a while now, though, I've been thinking that I wanted to switch to a system of little metal canisters like these ones, primarily because I was afraid that the plastic bags would become permeable and lead to stale spices and/or spice contamination.

I guess I should have gotten on that little project sooner because our green beans tasted overwhelmingly of cloves. This was not a pleasant thing. First of all, you just don't want these green beans to taste like a Christmas dessert. Secondly, the cloves intensified the already too-hot heat of the cayenne.

So, when these beans are properly spiced, they'll compete with our standard roasted green beans (recipe also below) for the title of The Best Green Beans in the Whole World.

Blackened Green Beans
(Adapted from New World Home Cooking's Website)

-2 pounds fresh string beans, stems picked off
-2 tablespoons safflower, sunflower, or corn oil
-1/2 teaspoon cayenne
-4 teaspoons ancho chili powder
-3 teaspoons cornmeal
-1 teaspoon dry oregano
-1 teaspoon dry thyme
-3 teaspoons Kosher salt
-3 teaspoons finely ground black pepper
-1 teaspoon paprika
-1 teaspoon onion powder (not flakes)
-1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder (not granules)

Be sure that your kitchen is properly ventilated before you attempt to blacken any food indoors. Open the windows and doors and disable the smoke detectors. (Don't forget to hook them back up again afterward!)

In a small bowl, fold all the seasonings together thoroughly.
Fill a large pot three-quarters full of water and salt as you would for pasta. Bring to a rolling boil while you preheat a cast-iron skillet or heavy wok until very hot, about ten minutes, over high heat.

Plunge the string beans into the boiling water and cook them for 2 minutes, until they are bright green, tender but still a bit crisp. Drain the beans but do not rinse them, and put them in a work bowl big enough to toss them around. Add the oil and toss to coat them evenly. Sprinkle the seasonings over the beans and toss to coat evenly.

When you are ready to blacken them, dump the beans into the hot skillet. If your skillet is small, this may need to be done in batches. Don't overload the skillet. Using tongs, move the beans around to blacken the seasoning evenly. The idea here is to char the spices, not the beans themselves. 

Serve the beans garnished with lemon wedges, with 1/2 cup of Mustard Remoulade Sauce (see recipe below) for dipping.

Ric's Mustard Remoulade Sauce

-2 tablespoons paprika
-3/4 tablespoons Tabasco sauce
-1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
-1/4 teaspoon celery salt
-1/4 cup Pommerey or grainy mustard
-1/3 cup Dijon mustard
-1/2 teaspoon gumbo file powder
-1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
-1 teaspoon grated or finely minced onion
-1 teaspoon grated or finely minced scallion
-1 teaspoon grated or finely minced celery
-1 cup safflower, sunflower or other neutral-flavored oil

In a food processor, combine all the ingredients except the oil and process well. Then, with the machine running, add the oil in a steady stream to emulsify.

Roasted Green Beans

We've tried many recipes for green beans, some of which included a lot of fancy ingredients and cooking techniques. We think, though, (and a lot of our friends agree) that these simply roasted green beans win hands-down every time both for ease of preparation and, more importantly--taste.

-2 pounds green beans, tough ends snapped off
-Olive oil
-Salt to taste
-Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425°F.
Rinse the beans and dry in a salad spinner and/or on spread out on a roasting pan set on top of the preheating oven.
Toss beans with oil and salt to taste. Roast in a large heavy-bottomed baking pan, stirring occasionally, until spotted here and there with dark brown and thinner beans are crisp, 45 to 55 minutes total (depending on size of beans). Season with salt. Serve immediately.

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