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Alton Brown's Green Bean Casserole

Our resident food expert dives into the relatively recent birth of green bean casserole.

Unlike many Thanksgiving stalwarts, the green bean casserole (GBC) can’t trace its roots to culinary tradition. It was developed in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, an economist for the Campbell Soup Company. That’s right—like so many American classics, the casserole was developed as a sales tool.

Around the 1930s, big food companies like Campbell’s learned that in order to sell newly developed and processed foods, it was best to pump out recipes that featured them. The GBC was a “jiffy” casserole, requiring few ingredients and little time.

Reilly’s original recipe contains only six ingredients: cream of mushroom soup, milk, soy sauce (exotic for the time), black pepper, green beans (cooked or canned), and canned French-fried onions.

Its economy and flavor—largely thanks to gobs of fat and salt—earned the GBC near instant popularity. But a Thanksgiving feature story published by the Associated Press propelled it to immortality.

Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, which was invented in 1934, had become a pantry staple by ’55. Meanwhile, canned French-fried onions were developed one year earlier, in 1933, but languished until Reilly’s culinary breakthrough.

The bad news: A mere half cup of canned cream of mushroom soup can contain 6 g of fat and a whopping 870 mg of sodium. Canned green beans are ugly and mushy, while canned French-fried onions are downright creepy. The good news: Fresh green bean casserole is a great dish that can be whipped up from scratch with just a little more fuss.

For the topping:
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Non-stick spray

For beans and sauce:
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 pound fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed and halved
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and cut into 1/2- inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup half and half

• Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.

• Combine the onions, flour, panko and salt in a large mixing bowl and toss to combine. Coat a sheet pan with non-stick spray and evenly spread the onions on the pan. Bake in the oven until golden brown, tossing every 10 minutes, for approximately 30 minutes. Once done, remove from the oven and set aside until ready to use. Turn the oven down to 400 degrees F.

• While the onions are cooking, prepare the beans. Bring a gallon of water and 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil in an 8-quart saucepan. Add the beans and blanch for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and immediately plunge the beans into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.

• Melt the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to give up some of their liquid, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and nutmeg and continue to cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute. Add the broth and simmer for 1 minute. Decrease the heat to medium-low and add the half and half. Cook until the mixture thickens, stirring occasionally, approximately 6 to 8 minutes.

• Remove from the heat and stir in 1/4 of the onions and all of the green beans. Top with the remaining onions. Place into the oven and bake until bubbly, approximately 15 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Want more good news? You can try out more of my recipes by heading to mentalfloss.com/alton.

This story originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Now go download our new iPad app! Or get a free issue of mental_floss magazine via mail.

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