The first time I made green bean casserole I was not much of a cook. I made the dish using (are you ready for this?) condensed cream of mushroom soup (uh huh), a jar of cheese sauce (from Prego or Ragu, not Cheez Whiz – but still), and the infamous canned fried onions (oh boy). Yikes. Just, yikes. I would love to say that it tasted nasty and went uneaten, but well, neither is true. Over the years, I’ve cut out more and more processed food from my diet, for many reasons, namely health and food ethics. But I can never deny the fact that I had loved that green bean casserole so much.
So I set out to be inspired by that over-processed, chemical-y version, but to make it my own with fresher ingredients. It took quite a few tries to get it just right, but here it is in all its awesomeness. I kept the cheese aspect, using shredded white cheddar and gruyere. I add mushrooms as a nod to the mushroom soup, but they are fresh mushrooms. I make a béchamel sauce for the condensed soup part, with nothing artificial in there. Instead of the canned fried onions, I make my own fried onion rings or strips with a quick buttermilk and flour dredge. I do use frozen green beans. This is because I am very partial to the French cut style, which is a huge pain to do yourself. You can find very high quality frozen veggies these days, so I’m happy with it. You can use fresh green beans though, just trim them, cut them in half, blanch them until tender-crisp, then shock them in ice water.
I have tried recipes for other “from scratch” versions of green bean casserole before, and this one is truly the best I’ve tasted. It’s taken me a bit of trial and error to get it to this perfected point, but everyone who tastes it ends up gobbling it.
The casserole can be made the day before and sit in the fridge covered in plastic wrap. Then you bake it off the day you’re serving it, and make the onions while it’s baking. You can even partially prep the onions ahead of time too. Just slice the onion and let it sit in buttermilk in the fridge.
I will freely admit that using the canned fried onions is easier. But it’s not tastier. It really is worth it to make those crispy onions from scratch. The presentation and taste are undeniably superior and your guests will go crazy for it. And don’t worry about the mess that I’ll admit it does create. It’s Thanksgiving! If you’re cooking, surely someone else is on dishes duty, right? So there you go.
3 tbs butter, divided
1 lb. Cremini mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
4-5 slices of bacon, chopped
1 large shallot, minced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbs flour
1 3/4 cups whole milk
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
1 cup shredded sharp white Cheddar cheese
3 (10 oz.) packages of frozen French-cut green beans, thawed and thoroughly dried on paper towels
Kosher salt and pepper
1 medium onion, cut into rings
1 cup buttermilk, or more as needed
1 cup flour, or more as needed
Canola oil, for deep frying
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until softened and browned, about 7 minutes. Kill the heat and set aside.
In a medium stockpot, render the bacon until it’s crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat. Return the pot to medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic and sauté for about 2-3 minutes, until soft but not browned. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and let melt. Sprinkle in the flour and stir continuously for 1 minute. Now add the milk and whisk out any lumps. Keep the heat between medium and medium-low and let it thicken so that it can coat the back of a spoon. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Add the nutmeg and turn the heat to low.
Mix the two cheeses together in a bowl. Working in batches until you are done, add two-thirds of the cheese mixture into the béchamel. Let the cheese mostly melt in between batches. Stir with a spatula to help it melt.
When you’re done, add the green beans to the mushrooms and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Now add the cheese sauce and the rendered bacon bits to the mushrooms and green beans and stir to combine.
Grease a 9×13” baking dish. Pour the green bean casserole into it and smooth the top. Sprinkle the remaining shredded cheeses over the top. At this point, you can cover it with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
Bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese is lightly browned and the edges are bubbly.
Meanwhile, make the onion topping. Soak the onion rings in the buttermilk. Season with salt. In a pie plate, mix the flour with salt and pepper.
Heat a deep fryer or a Dutch oven with canola oil. It’s ready when a pinch of flour dropped in immediately sizzles but does not brown.
Take the onions out of the buttermilk, let any excess drip off briefly, and then dredge well in the flour, making sure the onion is well coated inside and outside. Carefully drop each onion into the hot oil, making sure you don’t overcrowd the pot. Fry, flipping once, until nicely browned and the bubbles around each onion ring are starting to subside, about 3-4 minutes. Work in batches if necessary.
Remove onions from the oil to a paper towel lined plate and lightly sprinkle with salt.
Neatly arrange the onion rings on top of the cooked casserole and serve immediately.