When I applied for my job at Chez Panisse, I’d just left a restaurant where the chef was, what we call in the business, a “screamer”. That is, one of those chefs who flips out in the kitchen and yells indiscriminately.
Contrary to what television might lead you to think, this isn’t a new, or even trendy, phenomenon. (The other type of chef that cooks dread are the “watchers”, the less-telegenic chefs, who stand around and watch everyone else do all the work.)
The job I’d left was the only job that I ever dreaded going to since every day was pretty much a cauchemar (nightmare). So with a bit of trepidation, I asked Alice if she ever yelled, and she said, “Only if I see good food going bad. That makes me angry.”
Fair enough—since I agreed.
Whenever I would see someone wasting something precious, like raspberries, or letting them go bad, I realized that those people likely had never navigated the thorny branches to see what goes into picking that pint of those berries. Or spent a few back-breaking hours hunched over in the scalding-hot sun, picking strawberries. So when people complain about the price of berries, I say, “Well, how much would you charge if you have to pick them?”
Shelling beans are another precious commodity. Although they’re not terribly expensive (one pound, or 450 g, cost me roughly €2), they do take a bit of preparation and I remember preparing a meal for a group which included a nice pile of fresh shelling beans as part of the main course. Then watching the plates come back into the kitchen with a majority of the hard-earned beans untouched. Merde!
I don’t know what people have against beans, but I love ‘em. I mean, I really, really love beans. If you’ve never had great beans, if you can’t get fresh, you should treat yourself to a bag of Rancho Gordo beans, which are one of the few things I stock up on when making trips back to the states.
But in the late summer and fall, I buy shelling beans at my market. Perhaps the most famous in France are the haricot de Paimpol from Brittany, which are so esteemed, they have their own AOC status. Some have wild markings, like Borlotti beans, and you expect the cooked beans to have the same striations. But often they diminish when cooked.
Instead of making a long-simmered meat dish or soup with them, I prefer them as close to fresh and nature (pure) as possible. They’re really easy to prepare; just peel off the husks then simmer the beans in gently boiling water to which I often toss in a bay leaf and some herbs.
When they’re done, I douse them in a bit of vinaigrette made from olive oil, vinegar, and a bit of salt, right away, while they’re still warm so they absorb the flavor of the dressing. Even easier is to drizzle them with walnut or hazelnut oil and a bit of sea salt, then let them cool.
Now that, my friends, is something worth screaming for.
Fresh Shelling Bean Salad
About 2 cups (250 g)
You can use a favorite vinaigrette (about 1/4 cup, 60 ml) and perhaps include a chopped shallot to mix with the warm beans, too. A handful of fresh herbs is delightful, but I wait until the beans are cool to add them so they don’t lose their oomph. I enjoy them often tossed with good summer tomatoes and lots of fresh basil, which is pretty much my favorite summer salad.
They’re also insanely-good tossed with thin spaghetti, steamed green beans, a swirl of pesto stirred in, then topped with toasted breadcrumbs.
- 3 quarts (3l) of very lightly salted water
- 1 pound (450 g) shelling beans, shucked
- optional: a bay leaf, a few branches of thyme or savory, half a small onion
1. In a large covered saucepan, bring the water to a boil.
2. Add the beans and any, or all, of the optional seasonings.
3. Reduce the heat to a low boil and cook for 25-30 minutes with the lid ajar, until the beans are tender. But be careful not to overcook them. You may need to add more water while they’re cooking.
4. Drain the beans, then toss with while warm with vinaigrette and a peeled and minced shallot, or a drizzle of walnut or hazelnut oil and sea salt.
To serve, add a handful of fresh herbs, such as thyme, chives, or basil. Toss well, and mix with tomatoes, par-boiled green or yellow beans, or serve on their own, alongside roast pork loin.
Note: The two beans shown in the post are different. The ones with the red markings are Borlotti beans, and the ones on the plate, in the salad, are the haricot de Paimpol, or haricot coco, their non-AOC cousins.)