Monday, November 9, 2015

Green Bean and Wild Mushroom Casserole

     Gourmet Comfort Food!
     A popular recipe for Green Bean Casserole is printed on the back of nearly every can of Cream of Mushroom Soup.  During the holiday season, many people follow that easy recipe when preparing side dishes for big family dinners.  Even when only using canned ingredients, Green Bean Casserole is a crowd pleaser, because the flavor is so rich and satisfying.
     As every modern home cook knows, fresh is best!  The days of easy bake canned food recipes have pretty much gone by the wayside in recent years.  Part of the reason why is because consumers are more health conscious and pre-prepared canned food items are usually loaded with artificial ingredients.  The other reason is quality.  Because of food topics being televised in recent years, the general public now knows more about fine food preparation than ever before.  The average home cook prefers cooking quality food with fresh ingredients rather than just settling for convenience.

     At an award winning fine dining restaurant in Florida, we prepared a special Thanksgiving menu that included many traditional American favorite food items.  Green Bean Casserole made from scratch was offered on the holiday menu.  Customers actually ordered second helpings for their table, because they liked the freshly made Green Bean Casserole so much!   We made batch after batch, till we ran out of fresh green beans late in the day.
     Waitresses came back to the kitchen and related compliments from customers.  The compliment that we heard the most went something like, "My customer said that before today he hated Green Bean Casserole, because at home it was always made with canned food and greasy canned crispy fried onions.  The whole table really liked our Green Bean Casserole, because it tasted so fresh!"
     After hearing the compliments that day, I thought of many home style canned food recipes that people dreaded eating, that could be better if they were made the old fashioned way with fresh ingredients.  After that day, I occasionally used fresh ingredients to make a few food items that were stereotypically only thought of canned food creations and the reaction from guests was very good.
     At about that same time in the late 1900's, an American style gourmet diner cuisine trend was just starting to take shape.  Chefs at gourmet diner restaurants were adding a few gourmet ingredients to old Blue Plate Special recipes.  One might say that the gourmet comfort food rejuvenate public interest in classic American diner restaurants.

     American diner food made with fresh gourmet ingredients hit a peak in popularity about the time that the events of 9/11/2001 occurred.  All of a sudden, fusion food that challenged a customer's senses was no longer popular.  During those chaotic hard times, the dining public sought comfort like never before.
     After 9/11, many chef's in fine dining restaurants also realized the profitability of comfort food.  The fine dining restaurant business was volatile at that time and chefs that catered to the needs of the dining public ended up coming out as a winner.
     For example, I was working for a fusion cuisine chef at a Michelin rated French restaurant in a 5 Diamond rated resort shortly after 9/11.  Nobody wanted to eat challenging fusion food at that time and the restaurant was losing money left and right.  After 2 weeks of financial losses, the fusion chef resigned.  A chef from the prestigious Greenbriar Resort took over the kitchen and wrote a solid menu of modern French fine dining comfort food.  With a lot of work from us cooks, the Michelin rated French restaurant ended up setting new sales records of over $98k per night, while many of our competitors went out of business because they failed to market the food that the dining public really wanted.  The dining public sought comfort and fine dining French comfort food was very profitable smash hit!  

     What does all this fine dining French comfort food mumbo jumbo have to do with today's recipe?  At the Michelin rated French restaurant we actually made gourmet comfort food with select fresh ingredients.  The same thing can be done in any home kitchen and the level of difficulty is really not that high.
     Today's casserole recipe features a nice mixture of gourmet mushrooms with fresh green beans that were "French cut" by hand.  The sauce is a simple crème velouté, or in plain English, a thin gravy simmered with the addition of cream.  Crispy Onions are also very easy to make from scratch.  Put it all together and you will have a gourmet Green Bean Casserole that will simply amaze guests!              
     Crispy Onions (Onion Straws): 
     This recipe yields enough crispy onions for 3 to 4 portions of green bean casserole.   
     Onion straws, haystack onions and crispy onions are all the same thing.  
     Crispy onions are very easy to make, but it is easy to overcook and burn the crispy onions.  Only small amounts of crispy onions should be fried at a time to prevent dangerous hot oil foaming.    
     Step 1:  Heat 6" of vegetable frying oil in a high sided pot to 360ºF.
     Step 2:  Cut 1 large vidalia onion into paper thin sliced rings.  (The onion rings must be less than 1/16" thick.)
     Step 3:  Place the thin onion slices in a mixing bowl and separate them into rings.
     Add 2 to 3 pinches of sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 1 pinch of cayenne pepper.
     Let the onions sweat from the salt for about 5 minutes.
     Step 4:  Add enough flour to coat the onion rings.  (About 1 1/4 cups.)
     Toss the thin onion rings and flour together, so the onions are evenly coated.
     Step 5:  Place the coated onions in a medium mesh strainer over a mixing bowl.
     Gently shake the strainer to remove the excess flour.
     Step 6:  Deep fry small batches of the coated onions at a time to prevent excessive oil foaming.
     Poke the crispy onions with a fryer net as they fry, to prevent the crispy onions from sticking together.
     Fry till the onions are a crispy golden color.  (This only takes a minute or two.)
     Step 7:  Use a fryer net to remove the crispy onions from the hot oil.  Place them on a wire screen roasting rack over a drip pan to drain off any excess oil.
     Keep the crispy onions warm on a stove top.
     *The frying oil can be saved if the heat is turned off immediately after the frying is done.  The oil must be filtered.  The only problem is that anything else that is fried in the used oil will taste like onions!

     White Roux:
     This yields more than enough roux for the green bean casserole recipe.  Any extra roux can be refrigerated and used to make another recipe.  
     Step 1:  Heat a second sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 2 ounces of unsalted butter.
     Step 2:  Add an equal amount flour, while constantly stirring with a whisk, to make a roux.  (The roux should be shiny, not caky looking.)  
     Constantly stir till the roux is a pale whitish color.
     Step 3:  Take the pot of roux off of the heat.  Set the pot aside and occasionally stir as the roux cools.

     Wild Mushroom Crème Velouté: 
     This recipe yields enough for 2 green bean casserole portions.
     Step 1:  Soak 1/4 cup of mixed dried wild mushrooms in 2 cups of water overnight in a refrigerator.  (The mixture can be any combination of chanterelle, porcini, morel or cep mushrooms.)
     Remove the reconstituted mushrooms from the soaking water.
     Pour the mushroom soaking water through a fine mesh strainer into a container and set it aside.
     Coarsely chop the wild mushrooms and set them aside.
     Step 2:  Heat a sauce pot over medium low heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add 2 tablespoons of minced onion.
     Sauté till the onions turn clear in color.
     Step 3:  Add the chopped reconstituted wild mushrooms.
     Add 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh portobello mushroom.
     Gently sauté till a few golden highlights appear.
     Step 4:  Raise the temperature to medium heat.
     Add the reserved mushroom soaking liquid.  (about 1 3/4 cups)
     Add 1/4 cup of chicken broth.
     Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
     Rapidly simmer and reduce till about 1 1/2 cups of liquid remain.
     Step 5:  Add just enough of the reserved white roux to thicken the sauce to a medium thin consistency, while stirring with a whisk.  The sauce should easily coat a spoon.
     Step 6:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add 1/2 cup of cream while stirring.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
     Add 2 pinches of thyme leaves.
     Step 7:  Gently simmer and reduce the sauce till it is medium thin sauce consistency.  (about 1 3/4 cups
     Keep the sauce warm over very low heat.

     Green Bean and Wild Mushroom Casserole:
     This recipe yields 2 portions.
     Step 1:  French cut about 3 cups of trimmed fresh green beans.  (Frenched Green Beans = Cutting the green beans lengthwise into thin strips.)
     Place the Frenched green beans in an 8" wide casserole dish that is about 1" deep.
     Step 2:  Pour a generous amount of the wild mushroom crème sauce over the green beans.  (The sauce should almost cover the green beans.)
     Step 3:  Place the casserole dish on a baking pan.
     Bake in a 350ºF oven till the green beans are hot and the sauce is bubbling.
     Step 4:  Remove the pan from the oven.
     Place a thin layer of the crispy fried onions on top of the casserole.
     Step 5:  Return the casserole to the oven.
     Only bake long enough to heat the crispy onion topping.  (This only takes about 1 or 2 minutes.  Be careful not to burn the crispy onions!)
     Step 6:  Remove the casserole from the oven and let it cool to a safe serving temperature.
     Place the green bean and wild mushroom casserole on a doily lined serving plate.
     No garnish is necessary!
     The deep aroma of green beans in a wild mushroom crème velouté sauce with crispy fried onions irresistibly captivating!  This is good what old fashioned traditional comfort food made from scratch is all about!

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