Thanksgiving, when viewed from my culinary perspective, virtually seems to cry out for tradition more than any other holiday that we celebrate in this great country. Even people of other cultures, transplanted to our shores and bound by their own time-honored traditions, readily embrace our uniquely American custom of serving roast turkey, “with all the trimmings,” on Thanksgiving Day.
So when it comes to the menu, it’s pretty much a cut-and-dried affair. And I tend to like it like that.
Tradition, of course, is all about the familiar and the expected. It anchors us to the past, gives us an opportunity to gather with family and friends, and allows us to retreat for a time from an ever changing world beset by uncertainty.
When we observe tradition we honor and respect the generations that preceded our own, even when some of those traditions might appear old-fashioned or outdated. Like, for instance, the perennial, persistent and much loved-yet so often disparaged-Green Bean Casserole.
The ubiquitous green bean casserole, invented in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, a former kitchen manager for Campbell’s Soup Co., is a concoction comprising canned green beans, Campbell’s condensed mushroom soup, and French’s french fried onions. Variations have ensued over the years, with additions such as soy sauce, garlic and onion powder, and the substitution of frozen or fresh green beans for the canned variety. Purists insist on using canned green beans.
Green beans are a tradition with my family, too, but not in a casserole. The simple way in which I serve them acts more as a foil for all of the other rich foods that are on the table-kind of like having the sorbet that’s served between courses at a formal dinner.
Now far be it from me to belittle a dish that will be placed on an estimated 30 million dinner tables this Thanksgiving: Frequent readers of this column know that I am a stickler for tradition, one who strongly believes in a philosophy best summed up by that deliciously sounding Latin phrase, “De gustibus non est disputandum,” meaning “There is no accounting for taste.”
But belittled it is-ridiculed, and even scorned, by scores of people I have known. To all who speak ill of Campbell’s Green Bean Casserole: De gustibus non est disputandum!
If your Thanksgiving tradition compels you to make this famous dish, by all means go buy that can of French’s fried onions. Or perhaps, you might try them this way.
Frank Chlumsky, former executive chef of Philander’s restaurant in Oak Park, teaches in Chicago at Kendall College’s School of Culinary Arts. In his 35-year career, Frank has owned restaurants in Michigan City, Ind., and in Lake Geneva, Wisc. He has also been executive chef at the Saddle & Cycle Club in Chicago. Frank lives in Forest Park, where he cooks for pleasure.
Fresh Green Beans Sauté
2 pounds fresh green beans, ends trimmed
1½ gal. cold water
1 T. salt
2 T. butter or olive oil
1 shallot, finely minced
¼ c. almonds-sliced, blanched and toasted(optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
In a large pot, bring the cold water and 1 T. salt to a vigorous boil.
Add the green beans and cook, uncovered, until tender, about 2 minutes after the water comes back to the boil.
Immediately remove the green beans from the pot and put in ice water.
Drain the beans and set aside. (This can be done a day in advance).
When ready to serve, heat a large skillet over a high flame for 30 seconds.
Add the butter or olive oil.
When the butter begins to foam, add the green beans and finely chopped shallot.
Thoroughly heat the green beans, stirring or flipping the pan so they cook evenly.
If you choose to add almonds, do so at this point. To toast the almonds, place them in a dry skillet and cook them over medium heat until lightly browned, continuously shaking the pan.
Season with salt and fresh pepper and serve.