While Julia Child thought the green bean casserole with fried onion rings was -- a classic American Thanksgiving dish -- this famous “French Chef” – who passed in 2004 at the age of 91 – liked to showcase a somewhat “French version” of this casserole on her 1960’s and 1970's era public television cooking shows. In turn, Child’s TV cooking partner, Jacques Pepin, called Child’s version “green bean heaven” because of its rich taste with “lots of cream, butter and crispy green beans.” At the same time, Child told Pepin that “it’s much more than just dumping a can of mushroom soup over beans,” because "using canned or even frozen green beans for the recipe was horrid.”
In turn, Child scolded anyone who complained about cooking Thanksgiving dinner because “it’s an honor,” she exclaimed with an affectionate slap on a turkey about to be roasted. Child then dispenses with the pleasantries and met fire with fire by stating that “anybody can cook a Thanksgiving dinner. And, why don’t they care?”
Child’s green bean casserole made easy
In 1996, Child was ranked #46 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time. She graduated from Smith College, earning a B.A. in history back in 1934 and also graduated from the famed Paris cooking schools Le Cordon Bleu and Le Grand Diploma.
In addition, Child authored the 734-page book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” that became an international best seller and still receives critical acclaim that derived in part from its easy to follow recipes.
For instance, she told a TV audience in 1971 that: "I recommend only fresh green beans for the casserole.”
Child then offered a short history of the American version of the green bean casserole that consists of green beans, cream of mushroom soup and topped with French fried onions.
Child noted that this dish has been a classic Thanksgiving side dish since the 1950’s when the Campbell Soup Company offered a cooking contest around two things most Americans always had on hand: green beans and cream of mushroom soup.
While Child never took credit for the green bean casserole – and, in fact, made fun of it during her annual Thanksgiving TV cooking shows – she said “it’s a must for any Thanksgiving dinner.”
Green bean casserole can be modified
What’s nice about a green bean casserole, explained Child during one of her early cooking shows, is “how easy it is to make, and you can add your own ideas very easily.”
For instance, she said “you can simply follow the directions on the back of most cans of mushroom soup that feature green bean casseroles.”
At the same time, this “French Chef,” made it clear that when preparing a classic green bean casserole, to also use “fresh French beans,” that she said are “also referred to as green beans.”
In turn, she always recommended using fresh, “thinner type green or French beans” for her casserole recipe.
“These bright beans are stripped down to their essence and tossed with lots butter. There's no loss of color, flavor or texture by cooking the beans in advance,” explained Child while also advising Thanksgiving cooks to “prepare the beans up to one day in advance,” and “covered tightly and refrigerated,” and then reheated for about five minutes when ready to serve.
For eight servings, Child said to use:
1 1/2 to 2 pounds green beans, ends trimmed
4 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)
2 tablespoons minced parsley (optional)
1 can of mushroom soup
1 can of French fried onion rings
Directions for cooking the beans and casserole:
First, have ready a large bowl of ice water. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the beans and cook, uncovered, for 5 to 6 minutes or just until tender. Drain the beans and transfer to the ice-water bath. Drain again. Set aside, or, if making in advance, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate. About three minutes before serving, in a large saucepan or skillet over medium-high heat, toss the beans until their moisture evaporates. Add the butter, salt and pepper to taste, stirring to combine. When the beans are heated through, add the lemon juice and parsley, if desired. Serve immediately if you're just making fresh green beans, she added.
Thus, if you're "set on making the casserole," simply put the green beans aside and follow this recipe.
Also, Child said the topping and the mushroom filling can be prepared and refrigerated, separately, a day in advance.
Moreover, she said it's best to cook the green beans and bake the casserole shortly before it is served.
Child also recommends using “other ingredients,” such as a can of the classic mushroom soup, a dash of dry sherry, a half cup of cream and, of course, a can of the French fried onion rings for the topping.
Child then noted how one can make "your own onion rings," but the time it takes is not really worth it with the products out today.
“I imagine that you will make this dish many, many times during your Thanksgiving feast. I want you to adapt it to your tastes. It’s the fresh green beans that make the dish,” she asserted.
“Now, you simply preheat your oven to 425 degrees, and have a nice big casserole dish ready and greased. Then, bring a large pot to boil, and add the beans with a little salt. Cover and cook for about seven minutes, and drain. Be sure to rinse the beans with cold water, and drain again,” she instructed.
“Then add the beans, the mushroom soup and seasonings: a bit of garlic, pepper and salt. Add in about a half cup of cream and bake the casserole for about 20 minutes. When it’s browned on top simply shake and then crumble some French fried onion rings on top and serve,” Child said.
Recipe source: “The French Chef Cookbook,” by Julia Child (Knopf, 1961)
Julia Child hated “fools in the kitchen who didn’t prepare”
“This is not difficult to do,” asserted Child in the Public Television series “The French Chef with Julia Child.” “I get so many letters from viewers asking how to do this, how to do that and I tell them my book is free at the library. Read it, and learn the recipes.”
“I will not hold it in any longer, I’ll blow out my teeth,” Child said at the “fools” who make such a big deal about cooking Thanksgiving dinner.
In turn, Child carefully rehearsed a defense way of telling “anybody that cooking your Thanksgiving dinner is easily one of the simplest tasks you’ll ever encounter.”
At the same time, she warned those Thanksgiving and holiday cooks – who she acknowledged don’t “cook much throughout the year: -- to “simply take a deep breath” and follow the steps that are either on the frozen turkey itself, or recipes that “anybody who takes the time can follow with success.”
Child gave no quarter to hysterical women who would ramble on during Q’s and A’s either during or after her cooking demonstrations. “Stop that right now,” Child demanded. “All right, let’s get into it.”
And, surprisingly, every cooking obstacles fell away because Child stayed calm, cool, connected, compassionate, charming, creative, comical, curious and mostly confident that she could cook just about anything.
If there is one main bit of advice “that Julia gave to nervous cooks,” said her cooking mate Jacques Pepin is “butter, butter, a little more butter.” Pepin then added: “Seriously, Julia told them that ‘it’s easy,’ and just to “focus on the task at hand,” and, also “you want some butter into it.”
In turn, Child made note that “butter” is another key ingredient for her version of the classic Thanksgiving green bean casserole.
Pepin disclosed that the real secret to French cooking and “Julia’s magic” is “lots of butter. The French cook with lots of butter, he said.
Image source of fresh green beans that Julia Child said “are the most important ingredient for a classic green bean casserole.” Photo courtesy Wikipedia