There is a dish you can find at most Chinese restaurants that goes by a number of different names, most of which include “green beans” and “pork.” Usually you’ll also see “stir fried,” and often “spicy” and/or “garlic” in the title. It’s a dish from Sichuan, and there, it includes spicy pickled mustard root or greens. There are two or three Chinese restaurants in the New Orleans area that have those pickles or some variation thereof on the menu, and you can also buy them in at least two markets (Hong Kong Market, on the West Bank, and Golden City, in Metairie).
There are two general approaches to making the recipe. One involves frying the beans quickly in a lot of oil; the other involves “dry frying,” which essentially means cooking them for a bit longer, but in just a little oil. When I was reading recipes on the subject, I came across a third method.
The recipe in question was at the website Serious Eats, which I like quite a bit. It’s the sort of place that dives deep into the ingredients, techniques and stories behind recipes. In this case, Serious Eats managing culinary director J. Kenzi Lopez-Alt (which is a real name, and not one I invented) made a couple of changes to the traditional dish – first, he broils the beans instead of frying them; second, he cooks the sauce on a medium-low heat, instead of quickly searing the spices and aromatics in hot oil along with the beans. Lopez-Alt’s recipe includes the Sichuan peppercorn, dried chili and pickled mustard root found in the original, but he does suggest a substitute for the last: a combination of mild kimchi and capers.
My daughters are not going to eat pickled mustard root or kimchi. They would scoff at the prospect, and those are not the sort of flavors one can hide. But they will now and again eat green beans, as long as there’s lemon involved, so I decided to use the same technique with capers, herbs and garlic as well.
The idea is to marinate the beans briefly to coat them in oil, then put them under a very hot broiler for a few minutes, so that they blister, char and shrivel in places. You then toss them with a sauce/dressing you’ve already made and kept warm and Bob’s your uncle.
It turned out pretty well, though I can’t say my 5-year-old was crazy about the capers.
Here’s how to do it:
- 1 pound or so of green beans, washed, ends trimmed and cut into pieces about 2 inches long
- 1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tsp. lemon zest
- 2 tbs. lemon juice
- 1 tbs. capers, chopped
- 1-2 tbs. fresh herbs, minced (oregano/thyme/marjoram/rosemary, etc.)
- 4-5 tbs. olive oil.
Combine the beans and 2 tbs. of the olive oil in a large plastic bag. Season with about a teaspoon of salt and place in the fridge for about an hour.
15 minutes before you’re ready to cook, heat the remaining 2 tbs. of olive oil on medium heat in a small saucepan. When it’s hot, add the garlic. Let it cook a couple of minutes, then add the zest, herbs and capers. Let it go another couple of minutes and add the lemon juice. Stir to combine and keep on very low heat.
Preheat your broiler to the highest setting. Strew the beans into a sheet pan large enough to hold them in a single layer, then broil for 2-3 minutes as close to the heat as you can. Remove from the oven and toss the beans, then return them to the broiler for another minute or two. Depending on the size of your beans and the heat of your broiler, this may take a bit longer. When the beans are browned on at least one side and have started to shrink up a bit, they should be tender.
Combine the beans and the sauce on a platter or in a large bowl and season with salt and a grind or three of black pepper. If you are fancy, you can finish the dish with shaved Parmesan cheese. If you are even fancier, you can add an anchovy or two to the sauce when you add the garlic.
I am not fancy enough to suggest anything further, but I welcome your suggestions in the comments.