Monday, September 7, 2009

Cheater's Side Dish - Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots and Bread Crumbs

Kris asked me the other day how restaurants manage to get all of their dishes out at the same time. I told him I had no idea, but remembered from my short stint as an (atrocious) waitress in high school, that many things were cooked partially ahead of time so that they could be finished off while another dish was cooking.

While perfect timing is crucial for a restaurant, the thought of it can also send the home cook reaching for the Ambien. In fact, when I first started cooking, I distinctly remember NOTHING ever being ready at the same time, which is why I usually avoided it altogether.

But have no fear - you're a smarter cook than I was. After all, you're on this blog reading about food and cooking while I was going at it like a rogue sailor, all alone with my ignorance. Here are a few tricks to arm you:

TIP 1. Meat means built in 'last minute' time. Anytime you are roasting or grilling meat as your main course, remember it generally needs ten minutes to 'rest' so that the juices can redistribute throughout. So wether it's a roast chicken, steak, or pork roast, remove it from the source of heat and cover loosely with aluminum foil while you wrap up whatever you're doing. This can be a real help if you've forgotten to make the salad dressing, set the table, what have you.

TIP 2. Have at least ONE un-fussy side dish that requires no babysitting on the menu (rice that can be baked in the oven untouched or roasted vegetables), can be made ahead (a salad assembled in a big bowl and chilled, then dressed right before you sit down), or that can sit quietly after its made (grits and polenta are very patient and can be reheated gently on the stove with just a splash of chicken stock to loosen them, while mashed potatoes often get gummy/tough as they sit.)

TIP 3. If you're making something fussy and codependent, like risotto - make it your main dish. Anyone who's made risotto WHILE trying to grill steaks or sear tuna perfectly knows what I'm talking about - it's very difficult to tend to both at the same time. Risotto requires constant stirring and sporadic addition of piping hot stock for up to 45 minutes. It's a time sucker - delicious, but demanding. So make it your main course and serve it with something you can whip up quickly once it's done, like a salad.

TIP 4. Build of a repertoire of recipes that can be eaten at room temperature so that you can use at least one in a menu that's rounded out with dishes served hot. Examples are roasted beets, quinoa or cracked wheat salad, or a salad of roasted butternut squash, basil leaves, and goat cheese dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Alright, enough babbling. Here's my new favorite way to eat green beans, using good old prewashed green beans that you 'steam' in the microwave first. I call it a cheater's side dish because you can saute the shallots first, then take them off the heat and let them sit until you're ready to finish the dish - in just five minutes' time.

Sauteed Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots and Bread Crumbs
Serves 4.

2 healthy sized shallots, sliced thin
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 package prewashed, precleaned green beans - the kind you steam in the bag, found in the chilled fresh veg section of grocery store
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons seasoned breadcrumbs
additional pinch of salt and pepper

Add the oil to a large, rimmed, nonstick skillet and raise the heat to medium. Add the sliced shallots and salt and pepper, stirring to spread throughout the pan. Let cook for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally and lowering the heat if they brown too quickly. Once they've become translucent and actually begun to shrink a little, you can take them off the heat and set aside until you're ready to finish the dish.

Five minutes before you're ready to eat, retrieve your bag of green beans from the fridge and use a fork to puncture holes in a couple of places. Put in the microwave on high for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, get your shallots back on the stove over medium heat. Carefully (using a towel) remove your green beans from the microwave, open the bag and add to the shallots in the pan. Season with a good pinch salt and pepper, then add the butter, breaking into bits with your fingers as you add it to the pan. Immediately add the breadcrumbs and stir to incorporate. Let cook for another 2 minutes on medium - until the shallots have really withered down and the green beans are just beginning to brown on one side (should remain bright green though in general - once they lose their signature shade - you've cooked them too long. Nothing to lose your pants over - but ideally you want them crisp and bright green.)

Serve immediately.

* These are particularly good with the Thyme Coated Chicken, posted here:

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