The later the season, the likelier it is that green beans are tougher. It’s as if their little reproductive systems shout,”Right! Forget the tender pod and kick the seed production into high gear!” As a result, the tender little sauteed beans of the early season give way to slow-cooked with sweet onion and tomato, or ham hock. You could be having those tender little beans still, with about 3 minutes of knife work.
I learned about “frenching” beans when I grew a series of square-foot gardens while writing The All-New Square Foot Gardening Cookbook (Cool Springs Press, 2010). Those tough, late season Kentucky Wonder beans: I “studied on them,” as they say out in the country, and discovered that the tough part is the “seam.” Cut it out and you’ve got a tender pod that can be cooked like a haricot vert, more or less.
Even when the beans get fairly large, cutting the whole pod into strips, or “frenching” it, yields green beanlets that can be tenderized by boiling a couple of minutes. Then you can serve them with lemon and butter, chill them for a salad, or saute them with garlic, ginger, bacon, thyme, or however you like them.
It seemed like frenching might be the right thing for the tough-ish broad, flat beans from an August CSA delivery. Because they’re flat, they’re even easier to cut into strips.
I can practically hear you thinking, “Slicing beans into strips–ain’t nobody got time for that.” So I timed it. That serving of beans pictured at the top of the post took exactly 1 minute to slice with a santoku knife. I wasn’t hurrying–don’t rush when you’re slicing anything. Just 1 minute produced enough beans for one person. The whole colander full took about 5 minutes.
TO do it, first try stringing the bean. Snap off the stem and try to “unzip” it. Next, bite it–if the seam is too tough to chew, it’s a good candidate for frenching. Use a small sharp knife to pare off the seam. At that point, try cooking it.
If it’s still a little too tough, with your next batch, after cutting out the seam, slice the beans. To do this, hold the bean more or less straight and slice it longwise or on a slight diagonal. Cut any leftover curved ends into a couple of slivers.
I used the most recent batch in place of long beans in dry-fried pork and long beans from Every Grain of Rice.