Gabriel Rucker gives a Thanksgiving classic an umami-packed new twist
Editor’s note: Thanksgiving traces its origins to an uneasy, temporary alliance between 17th-century English settlers and members of the Wampanoag Confederacy. This year, Eater is choosing to acknowledge that history in our coverage of the holiday.
Despite being a professional chef, my ego is not too fragile to accept a little help from packaged foods. Timing is everything in the kitchen, whether it’s at home or work, and as someone who lives a busy life and also happens to cook for a family of five, I’ve found that sometimes the easy way out is also the most delicious and satisfying. To wit: one of my most popular recipes at home is “Dad Rice,” which is simply rice made in the rice cooker with powdered ranch seasoning.
Green bean casserole is another one of those dishes that gets some help from packaged foods: invented by Campbell’s in 1955, its foundational ingredient is the company’s cream of mushroom soup. It’s a recipe I have a long history with: when I was growing up, it was the dish that my mom and dad brought to my grandma’s for Thanksgiving every year. As a child, I never questioned the recipe; it was just an integral part of Thanksgiving. But as I grew up and became a chef, I started to ask why it was a Thanksgiving staple. Green bean season, after all, is long gone by the time late November rolls around.
Maybe it was some nifty marketing from the folks at Campbell’s. Whatever the case, I didn’t hesitate to call on packaged foods for some help when I decided to make my own version of the recipe — though not Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup.
Instead, I used dashi powder, which adds wonderful depth and salinity, bringing out the dish’s umami notes and complementing the flavor of the mushrooms. Here, I use shiitakes, which I love for their umami and aromatic notes of the forest floor, and a roux made from half-and-half. White miso contributes a hint of sweetness, and bridges the gap between the cream and the dashi. And then, of course, there are the fried shallots. You can always make your own, but I prefer store-bought to save time — but either way, they give the casserole its signature, craveable crunch.
The dish is a great example of the high-impact/low-impact cooking I practice, meaning that the dish has a high impact on the person enjoying it and a low impact on the person making it. And its use of packaged foods makes it part of a fundamentally American cuisine, one that has evolved with the greater availability of products from a wide variety of cultures. That said, it’s good to remember less is more with packaged foods, and it’s best to pick and choose when to use them as your secret weapon. There are times that call for 100-percent from-scratch cooking. And then there are others, like green bean casserole, where you can get a little creative.
Dashi Green Bean Casserole
Serves 6 to 8
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and halved crosswise
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps sliced
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons white miso
1 cup water
2 tablespoons instant dashi soup powder
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sriracha
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup half and half
¼ cup sliced green onions
½ cup store-bought fried shallots
Salt, to taste
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Fill a medium bowl with ice water and set aside.
Step 2: Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the green beans and cook until bright green and crisp-tender, 3-4 minutes. Drain and put the green beans in the ice water to stop the cooking.
Step 3: Melt the butter in a 12-inch cast iron skillet (my preferred pan is Finex) over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, onions, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the onions soften and the mushrooms are fragrant, 4-5 minutes.
Step 4: Place the miso in a small bowl. Slowly add the 1 cup water, whisking constantly until the miso has dissolved. Set aside.
Step 4: Add the dashi soup mix, soy sauce, and sriracha to the pan and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute to marry the flavors. Sprinkle flour and cook for one minute, scraping bottom with a wooden spoon. Add the water with miso and the half and half and whisk to combine. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently, until the sauce is thickened, 6-8 minutes.
Step 5: Add the green beans to the sauce in the pan and stir to combine. Season with salt to taste. Bake until the sauce is hot and bubbly, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat and sprinkle the green onions and fried shallots on top. Serve immediately.
Chef Gabriel Rucker is the two-time James Beard Award-winning chef and co-owner of Le Pigeon and Canard in Portland, Oregon. Known for his off-the-cuff creativity in the kitchen, he can be found at @ruckergabriel.
Dina Ávila is a photographer in Portland, Oregon.
Recipe tested and styled by Ivy Manning