Monday, January 11, 2010

HARICOT VERT (Green Beans) - Restaurant Quality Vegetable

Late at night, in the dark places of my soul that I do not like to dwell in, I wonder sometimes why "real" cooks read my rambling postings. I may have moments of revelations when I discover cooking skills that are common place for many of you. On occasion, I can turn a clever phrase, and on very rare occasions, I have real cooking skills to pass on. This is one of those rare posts when I have something important to share...

Green Beans... so simple to get right, yet so often done HORRIBLY WRONG...

Green Beans should be served hot, but NEVER over cooked to the point of wilted wimpy mush (like most restaurants, and always at my mothers' house...sigh). They should have a crunch to them. When you hold them in the middle, they should retain their shape. If they droop, you have over cooked them.

Since these are supposed to be posts about restaurant quality meals, let me share an epiphany when I first started eating out for a majority of my meals. I discovered the difference between a $35 restaurant meal and a $15 restaurant meal. More often than not, the difference is in the vegetables. Any cook can make a steak edible... Get the temperature right, add extra juices and you can get a restaurant quality steak at a $15 restaurant. I have found it is much more rare to get great green beans at a restaurant than it is to get a great steak. Almost never at a $15 restaurant and only occasionally at a $35 joint. Green Beans should be cooked to order. You can not have a simmering pot of beans and dip a cup out every ten minutes when you plate a steak.

If you have never taken me seriously as a cook before, today is the day to listen. Cooking green beans is fast, easy and will do more to define you as a cook than learning to grill a steak.

I remember the first time I wandered into a fancy dancy restaurant, and they advertised that a main course was served with "hericot vert". I found out that it was just a fancy name for Green Beans (OK, actually, it literally means "Beans green" in French). In the US, they are those long skinny beans. In France, they are actually longer and skinnier, and a little bit harder to find here. Buy them fresh, and never frozen. They are MUCH cheaper fresh, and of course better tasting. When selecting haricot vert beans in the store, look for specimens which are evenly colored, without signs of yellowing or mold. They should also be firm and smooth to the touch, without any slime or soft spots. Keep the beans wrapped in a paper bag for up to four days under refrigeration, and wash them before use. When you do use the beans, trim the tips off.

And Now we cook... For this dish, your egg timer is god!

1 pound of beans
couple of pinches of salt
2 cups water

Get the water boiling, add the salt and stir.

Add the beans and give em a swirl.

Start the egg timer, set at 3 minutes.

That's it, three minutes and three minutes ONLY. When the dinger dings, immediately drain the water and then SHOCK the beans with cold water. This stops the cooking process. If you pick up a bean, they will have no droop, and if you break one in half, they will still have that snap. Works perfect every time.

But, they are not quite ready to serve...

Accent with...

Half an onion, cut into thin slices and rings separated, sauteed in 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Saute until just slightly browned edges appear.

Meanwhile, chop a roma tomato. I rarely use additional salt, but something about a salted raw tomato... So, I do not salt the beans or onions, but I do add salt to the tomatoes to taste.

Add the now cold beans to the hot oil and onions and saute for 1 additional minute. Coating the beans with the hot oil is all the additional heat you need to get the beans hot, yet preserve their crispness.

Plate the beans and onions, and garnish with the cold ripe tomato.

And there you have it... 5 minutes start to heaven. Make your beans like this once, and anytime you have a special occasion, you will never go back to (gonna commit blasphemy here) that overcooked, over seasoned, over hyped, souped up, french fried onion nonsense again. God meant vegetables to taste like vegetables.

I first remember hearing the term Haricot Verts at a VERY fancy dancy restaurant in Las Vegas. Before I discovered the joy of the cul de sac, I made many frequent trips to Vegas. After all, without me there would be many less lights. Besides, it gave me comfort to visit my money (the old jokes are the best jokes). This post is part of me series covering my Christmas Eve dinner with my wife. Each hour, for 12 hours I made a single dish (or drink), recreated from a memorable dining experience my wife and I had in our past. Part of the ritual included spending time remembering what made the meal, dish or location special. We have so many Vegas memories, filling the hour with those stories was easy. Our first Cirque du Soleil show (Mystere' at Treasure Island), seeing Sigried and Roy in their glory days, playing blackjack dressed as James bond in a tux and being comped into the most INCREDIBLE suite you could imagine.

My strongest memory is much too long to go into details. It is one of those, "where were you when" stories. I was in Las Vegas on 9/11, and stranded for 5 days before we could leave. Every memory of 9/11 and Las Vegas for me will include walking through the casino sports betting area, with dozens and dozens of huge TV's, all tuned to a news program and showing the towers falling. My memories of our life together are so wonderful to share... except that awful day. But that is part of my Vegas memories. We say a prayer, we never forget and we are changed forever. God bless those souls and all the souls affected (all of us). And, lest we forget to ask God to bless those that are still fighting for... well, whatever you may think they are fighting for, they deserve our prayers the most.

Just in case you aren't paying close attention, I am posting my Christmas Eve dinner with my wife. We decided to recreate our culinary journey through restaurant quality meals. So far, you have missed...
Come back tomorrow to see what we did at 6 PM when we finally get to the main course of the meal!! ...


  1. Your green beans look wonderful and I am sure they are delicious but if I don't cook mine "wimpy" my husband doesn't think they are cooked enough (sigh). Maybe I'll just cook some your way and eat them all myself!

  2. I like mine with a little crucnh left to them too. I haven't seen green beans cooked with tomatoes before, very unique twist. They look really good!

  3. Growing up , I thought green beans came in a can from a jolly green giant..Cooked until mush, as a kid I didn't know that fresh, lightly cooked green beans were darn good!

  4. I love vegetables that can still fight back. While many disapprove, I use the microwave to cook mine to crisp tenderness and then proceed with add-ins to the recipe. I really like the additions you've made to your beans.

  5. I do cook my green beans that way, but this recipe sounds wonderful. I just happen to have green beans in the fridge. Thanks.

    My husband was in New York - right across from the towers when they went down. He was trapped in NYC. It took six months to get his things from the hotel that was covered in really bad stuff, he had to sign a release before they would send them to him. Prayers are good.

  6. I finally learned how to cook green beans just a few years ago, they are tricky! Great instructions!

  7. Squishy green beans are a crime against nature. Those sound great!

  8. All veggies are better crunchy, I think. Love your recipe!
    My first Cirque du Soleil was the O show at Bellagio. We were in awe. Amazing you were in Vegas on 9/11. I think we all remember where we were, much like the Kennedy
    My daughter was living in TriBeCa at the time, 4 blocks from the World Trade Centers; she was working out-looking out a picture window and saw the planes go into the buildings. Everyone ran, thinking bombs were next. She called me on her cell phone and asked me what CNN was saying. Nobody had any idea what was going on. She couldn't go back to her apt for 4 months. She still lives there.

  9. i actually really needed this tutorial. my beans never quite turn out the way i want, i'm trying this way next time, thanks!

  10. Dave - your beans look great and from a nutrition and appearance standpoint I know you are right, but I was raised on green beans cooked all day with a ham hock and just can't seem to like the crunchy ones - same with most other veggies. I like and eat lots of veggies but rarely will eat the ones served in a restaurant. Oh well, I guess I'm a victim of my upbringing and too old and unwilling to change now - will just have to live with it I guess :) Stay warm.

  11. I'm really not a huge fan of green beans, they just taste but my hubs love them. he likes green bean omelette.

  12. OMG, this made me laugh out loud!

    "Besides, it gave me comfort to visit my money." Ha!

    I am confident that is why I only liked cucumbers as a child - you couldn't cook it to death!

    After I met my husband, we went to Smith & Wellenski in downtown Chicago. Tony got a side of asparagus, and it looked so bright green, I thought it was raw!

    He coaxed me into trying it - and guess what?? It was delicious! Slightly al dante, with a balsamic glaze and it was then and there that I started trying other vegetables!

    Now I can't live without my spaghetti squash, baby spinach and hericot vert! :D

    Love this recipe!!

  13. Great green beans. Especially funny to me because I over cooked mine today.

  14. Okay, confession time. I only like canned green beans. Sad, but true. However, I would certainly prepare this recipe for others because it looks beautiful and fresh.

  15. Nothing better than correctly made Harry Corvair.

    I'll be posting my version of "the best" green beans tomorrow. I'm afraid mine are cooked for 5 minutes, though.

  16. Veggies are always better crunchy.

    He oui, haricot vert veut dire bean green :) . We, francophone, place the adjective after the noun. Which makes English tricky for us to learn.

    By the way, do you know the meaning of each word in cul de sac? They are VERY different from "dead end" :P

  17. I like my green beans with crunch too... great recipe... thanks!

  18. Yeah you are so right - veggies can be tough. Firstly because I think people tend to be more forgiving of meats and proteins but more critical of veggies (since very few people out there actually LIKE vegetables). Secondly because of exactly what you said before - they are more delicate. Require more finesse.

    These look fantastic! I could see them being a total winner.

  19. Fresh greens beans are the best. I love them with a slight crunch with butter. So good. I did overcook them once and they were awful! Thanks for the timer tip!

  20. Dave, why wouldn't "real cooks" read your blog? Why wouldn't ANYONE want to read your blog? You talk sense, always hit the nail on the head, and never fail to make people laugh while at it. You're a gem. Your restaurant quality greens are awesome. I agree with you on getting the side dishes done right. Sides maketh the mains!

  21. i have a confession. I like over cooked veggies (shhhh, don't tell anyone).

  22. Thank you for this Dave. I now have a guide for green beans, I never seem to get them right.

    I was driving to work and in a residential neighborhood and admiring a very happy Wheaten Terrier getting his morning walk. The news came over the radio and I turned right around and headed home to the television. Even though my work location has changed, everytime I drive by that exact location I remember where I was the exact time I heard about 911. It's so visually clear in my mind.

  23. That's such an interesting theory -- that the veggies make a difference. But I think you're right! I get so caught up in the main courses that the sides are easy to overlook (and overcook).

    My mom used to feed us canned green beans when we were younger. I trained myself to throw up whenever I tasted them so I could claim to be allergic to them at school and not have to eat them. But when I was in college, some friends invited me over to dinner and served fresh roasted green beans ... they were nice and crunchy and like an entirely different vegetable!