Green beans are one of the most beloved and comforting vegetables, a staple of holiday dinners, smothered in casseroles, sauteed quickly as a last-minute side dish, or roasted and drizzled with olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
Before cooking, you'll want to trim the ends. Arrange the beans on your cutting board so the ends are lined up and trim off about 1/2 an inch. Repeat for the other ends. Green beans are great with melted butter or olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh lemon. Crushed pepper flakes, garlic, onions, ginger, sliced almonds and bacon always go well with green beans. Here are some of the best ways to cook green beans.
Blanching is a kitchen technique that involves briefly immersing a food in some sort of hot liquid, not long enough to cook it fully, but enough to produce some sort of change. That might be to loosen the skin, as with tomatoes or almonds. It might be to halt enzymatic processes that can lead to discoloration and spoilage, especially before freezing. And it might be to tenderize tough items. You can read more about blanching, but it generally involves a quick dunk in boiling liquid, followed immediately by an ice-water bath, called shocking, which stops the cooking process.
With green beans, blanching is an important step. Raw green beans are tough, so if you're adding them to a salad, blanching will tenderize them. If you're stir-frying them, blanching helps them cook more quickly, so that other items don't overcook. Blanching raw green beans is crucial before adding them to casseroles. You can also blanch, shock, drain and refrigerate your green beans, then cook them up to 3 days later when you're ready.
But remember, blanching isn't really a cooking method, since it only takes 30 to 60 seconds, and is intended to leave the beans uncooked. How-tos that instruct you to "blanch" your beans for 3 to 5 minutes are basically having you cook your green beans in boiling water. If you blanch them that long, and then cook them a second time, they're going to turn out mushy.
So blanching is what you do to your green beans before you cook them. But not every cooking method requires blanching. Roasting, for instance, doesn't. Nor does steaming (or boiling). But for sauteeing, stir-frying and baking, blanching first is a must.
To steam green beans, arrange your beans on a steamer basket in a pot with an inch or two of boiling water underneath. Cover and steam for 5 to 7 minutes, until tender but still crisp.
Blanch the beans for 30 to 60 seconds, then drain, pat dry as best you can, and transfer to a hot saute pan with some sort of high-heat cooking oil, like canola or safflower. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until tender but still crisp. Since you're cooking right away, there's no need to shock the beans after blanching. Just get them as dry as you can since dripping water in a hot saute pan can cause the oil to spit.
Toss the trimmed beans in olive oil and Kosher salt and roast on a foil-lined sheet pan in a 450 F oven for 20 minutes, turning once about halfway through. They'll turn a lovely golden brown while retaining their toothsome snap.
By baking, we mean cooking the green beans in any type of casserole, such as the traditional Thanksgiving green bean casserole. Baking raw green beans in a casserole isn't enough to cook them through, so you'll have to blanch them first. If you're cooking from a recipe, follow the recipe, at least the first time through. There are enough green bean casserole recipes out there for you to be able to find one that doesn't use canned or frozen green beans. But if you're adding green beans to an existing casserole recipe, blanch them for a minute or two first. The exact time will depend on how long the casserole is set to bake, and your personal preference on how crisp you want your green beans. But if a casserole bakes for 30 minutes, blanching your green beans for 1 to 2 minutes should be enough. Better to slightly undercook than overcook them.
Stir-frying (or wok-frying) is a great way to prepare fresh green beans. With stir-frys, the challenge is cooking various ingredients, each with their own cooking time, and having each one turn out properly cooked, all at the same time. For green beans, you'll want to blanch them for 1 minute, then drain and pat dry before cooking. No need to shock, though you can quickly rinse them in cold water, then drain and dry. Add to your hot wok and cook for about 2 minutes.
Green bean tempura is one of the tastiest ways of preparing green beans. In a heavy pot, heat around 3 inches of vegetable oil to 375 F. Whisk together a simple batter of flour and club soda (around 1 cup of each), plus a bit of Kosher salt. Then, working in batches, dip your green beans in the batter, transfer to the oil, cook for around 3 minutes, then remove from the oil, drain and serve.
A couple of popular kitchen gadgets are worth mentioning, the Instant Pot and the air fryer. Use caution with the Instant Pot, since even if you set it to 1 minute, which is the shortest time on the device, it still takes several minutes for the device to get up to pressure, and then several minutes to release that pressure. So your green beans might end up overcooked. As for the air-fryer, this is basically an undersized toaster oven with a fan in it. For green beans, you're better off roasting them on a sheet pan in the oven.