By Franz Scheurer
I love green beans. If they’re on the menu, I will always order them. Alas, I very rarely get green beans worth eating. It seems that the majority of chefs think that a quick one minute blanch in hot water, just warming them through, is good enough, sacrificing taste for mere texture. Well, in my opinion, it’s not. If they squeak when you bite them then they’re undercooked. As I see more and more undercooked green beans being dished up everywhere, I decided to see if I was a lone voice in a bean wilderness, and so asked some of my favourite chefs (who can cook beans according to the Scheurer bean-scale) what they thought.
Here are their answers:
Janni Kyritsis: Joan Campbell once said that someone who can cook green beans can cook anything, I must say I totally agree. Beans, like pasta, should never be served undercooked, but al dente. It’s the exact moment when they are cooked through but still green (this can take between 5 and 8 minutes depending on size), never grey and overcooked, then refreshed in cold water to arrest the cooking process.
Cheong Liew: Young chefs these days always seem to undercook green beans. I don’t like crunchy beans; I like tender beans. We are not cows; we have learnt to manipulate our food to bring out its flavour. My favourite way to eat beans is to cook them in gently boiling salted water, then refresh and sauté in parsley butter. I also like them Greek style, cooked with tomato and garlic. At home I quite often cut green beans diagonally, then stir-fry them Chinese style. This preserves the bright green colour but they’re still perfectly cooked through.
Tim Pak Poy: Perfectly cooked green beans are firstly a matter of individual preference and secondly a matter of application, then it depends on bean variety, length of time off the bush, & age of bean. We all prefer to eat just harvested, immature beans full of sugar. Having access to this poses some problems & therefore affects the cookery process. I suspect climbing beans originated in tropical climes (flat, runner, scarlet, snake). Mediterranean marbled beans etc & euro broad beans have been around since the dawn of time. Climbing beans suit blanching refreshing (tender but retaining crispness) dressing with soy & rice wine & eaten cold the next day; they also suit blanching in a deep-fryer then stir frying with pickled veg; as do they suit boiling & serving unrefreshed in a salad with tuna & egg or eating raw with salty duck egg relish - so the main point to be aware of is how to recognize a fresh young green bean - look for ‘snap’, unformed seeds & bright tender young pods then cook (or not) to your desired preference for your style of dish. Stephanie Alexander advises cooking to bite tender but not squeaky to tooth & to use plenty of water to prevent discolouration (acids reacting with chlorophyll), the old French cooks advise cooking in unlined copper pots (constant use would be a concern here) some say that a crunchy green bean lacks flavour - I think it depends more on the quality of the ingredient you start with & the application.
Damien Pignolet: Green beans tossed in nut-brown butter and toasted flaked almonds are among the most popular vegetables at Bistro Moncur. They are also one of the easiest to prepare: simply boil in salted water until tender (about 5-7 minutes), then drain well and toss in melted butter, adding an appropriate flavouring – garlic and parsley butter would be a classic French choice.
Joan Campbell: How to cook green beans (from Bloody Delicious, Allen & Unwin Pty. Ltd. / 1997): “Plunge topped and tailed beans into a large pot of boiling water with salt to taste. Never put the lid on. Bring quickly back to the boil and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until a knife tip can be inserted into the bean. Drain and rinse under cold water to arrest the cooking. Serve the beans at once or allow to cool if you want to serve them cold. If you want to cook the beans ahead and reheat, just toss them back into boiling water for 1 minute and drain. (This is useful when you have a large number of people to cook for)”.
George Francisco: They should be bright green still, but not too crisp, not too overcooked... there is a fine line. I like to blanch them to al dente, and then sauté them in a hot, dry pan until blistered with a black pepper & eschalot butter. They are finished with crisp fried eschalots or spring onions. Also I do not top and tail them, I only top them. I like the wispy ‘tails’.
Simon Goh: I never like ordering beans in restaurants (aside from Asian restaurants), simply because they generally undercook them! Chinese restaurants do it well, cooked with minced pork and chilli paste. At Chinta Ria we 'speed' blanch the beans with a wok-full of boiling water, which is imperative, then we stir-fry them with our trademark blachan paste, which arouses the beans to dizzy heights. Simply put: we seduce the beans with TLC!
Lucienne Francisco: After some time spent at boarding school, I can sympathise with the crispy green bean brigade and enjoy them that way every now and then, but a perfectly cooked green bean is a joy to behold - not too firm and not too flabby. Right now I love them sautéed in a wok then tossed in a paste made of coriander root, black peppercorns, garlic and fish sauce.
And defending the lovers of crunch:
Matt Moran: Baby beans are the best to start with. Boil them in lots of salted water and even add a little olive oil. Beans should have a crunch to them… there is nothing worse than eating soft beans.
My favourite green beans in Sydney at the moment:
Jonah’s at Whale Beach, George Francisco’s ‘black pepper blistered green beans with fried spring onions’
Chinta Ria Temple of Love, Simon Goh’s ‘blachan beans’