Thanksgiving

Green Bean Casserole With 4 Ingredients (None of Them Canned)

A fresh stovetop take on Thanksgiving's favorite side dish.

November  6, 2018

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big, BIG everything else: flavor, ideas, holy-cow factor. Psst: We don't count water, salt, pepper, and certain fats (say, olive oil to dress greens or sauté onions), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re stovetop-ifying Thanksgiving’s favorite casserole.


Dorcas Reilly, who just passed away last month, invented the green bean casserole 63 Thanksgivings ago. It was called The Green Bean Bake back then, but the signature ingredients were the same as today: canned green beans, canned mushroom soup, milk, soy sauce, black pepper, and French’s fried onions.

A New Jersey- native, Reilly worked for Campbell’s in Camden, the same city where she grew up. Her assignment: a vegetable side dish with green beans and Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, requested by the Associated Press. What Reilly’s team came up with is one of the most successful product-based recipes of all time. Peruse any modern food publication’s Thanksgiving content and you’d be hard-pressed not to find some sort of green bean casserole.

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Of course, the green bean casseroles published today don’t all look like Reilly’s. Not quite.

Photo by Julia Gartland

Reilly’s original recipe debuted in 1955, when supermarkets were springing up like weeds and premade products were the best thing since sliced bread. As Jessamyn Neuhaus writes in Manly Meals and Mom's Home Cooking: “Some cookbooks published in the 1950s confined all their soup recipes to mixing and doctoring canned soups.”

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Top Comment:
“Maybe the beans, shallots and mushrooms all made separately and then assembled prior to dinner? Also, any suggestions for dairy free cream subs?”
— elisamama
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In the decades since, processed foods have become less popular, and many food publications shy away from using them. But people still can’t get enough of that green bean casserole. So what happened next was inevitable, right? Food publications started publishing homemade takes on the green bean casserole. Dish evolutions often move in the opposite direction—“like Mom made it” hints at stirring a pot for hours, not opening a can. But the green bean casserole was never supposed to be made from scratch.

And yet. Us recipe developers can’t resist. Let’s scan the mix: We published Homemade Green Bean Casserole in 2010. Smitten Kitchen published a Green Bean Casserole With Crispy Onions in 2013. Bon Appétit published BA’s Best Green Bean Casserole in 2016. The Kitchn published Classic Green Bean Casserole (from scratch) in 2017.

Some patterns:

  • The packaged fried onions are replaced with floured and fried shallots or onions. (Or not replaced at all.)
  • The “cream of mushroom” is mimicked with either 1) a traditional roux (equal parts flour and fat) or 2) flour added to sautéing mushrooms, which creates a thick, gravy-like sauce.
  • The liquid isn’t one ingredient. Here are the combinations from the recipes listed above: 1) white wine, vegetable broth, half-and-half, 2) vegetable or chicken broth, heavy cream, 3) whole milk, heavy cream, 4) whole milk, chicken broth.
  • Special guests appear, such as garlic, nutmeg, Parmesan, and thyme.
  • The casserole is baked like the original—and, uh, like all casseroles.
Photo by Julia Gartland

This Big Little Recipe changes things up a bit:

Crispy-fried shallots don’t need flour.

I learned this trick from Sarah Jampel who learned it from our Test Kitchen Director Josh Cohen. By adding the thinly sliced shallots to room-temperature oil, then putting the pan on the stove, you slowly but surely eliminate all their moisture, yielding crinkly, wrinkly golden-brown beauties. This goes against the standard frying approach (adding food directly to 365°F-ish oil). But it works.

The cream of mushroom doesn’t need flour either.

Campbell’s canned soup was my inspiration here. Or, the title was: Condensed Cream of Mushroom. Why don’t we just use cream and mushrooms? And “condense” (cook) the mixture until it’s the right consistency? Here’s how: Sauté mushrooms until they’re well browned, add a ton of cream, and cook away. Make sure your pan is big enough, so nothing boils over. But do keep it at a powerful, rolling boil, stirring occasionally to prevent any burning; this not only reduces the cream into a bean-clinging thickness, but infuses it with mushroom flavor and color.

All those other ingredients? We don’t need ’em.

Cream has this covered. (Love you, cream!) And those other guys, like cheese and spices? Our star ingredients can sing on their own. Generously salting at each step makes the green beans taste green beanier, the mushroom sauce taste mushroomier, and the shallots taste shallotier. Which, to me, makes the green bean casserole itself taste green bean casserole-ier.

Skip the oven.

Recipes love to talk about using as few dishes as possible, but what about ones that use as few appliances as possible? The beauty of the original recipe was: It just used an oven. This recreation just uses the stove. On any given night, I love the simplicity of this. But on Thanksgiving, it’s just practical. There’s probably a 15-pound turkey and some stuffing in your oven, plus a sweet potato casserole and pie waiting in line. So let the green bean casserole take one for the team. First, cook the beans in boiling water. (Psst: This can be done in advance! Just make sure they’re room temperature before adding to the mushroom-cream sauce.) The rest all takes place in the same skillet. You can serve directly out of there, or transfer to a cutesy casserole dish. Because there’s no oven time, it’s not technically a casserole. But I hope Reilly would’ve loved it all the same.

Does your family make green bean casserole on Thanksgiving? Share thoughts and memories in the comments!

15 Comments

Angela R. November 16, 2018
For years and years, green bean casserole NEVER graced our table. Then I married my husband and my family betrayed me. Turns out, they LOVED his green bean casserole. He uses cream of chicken w/herbs soup instead of cream of mushroom and also includes water chestnuts for additional crunch. I still hate green bean casserole and my mother still loves it. Sigh.
 
Cathy November 15, 2018
I made this tonight and its definitely a keeper. I highly suggest seeking out high quality cream since there are so few ingredients. :)
 
Author Comment
Emma L. November 15, 2018
Thanks, Cathy! So glad you enjoyed.
 
selena November 12, 2018
I've been doing it this way for years! Glad to see it published.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. November 13, 2018
That's so awesome! Thanks, Selena.
 
Adrianne P. November 9, 2018
Where is the recipe "with 4 ingredients, none of them canned?" This recipe has 8 ingredients!
 
Phoebe November 12, 2018
It states at the beginning of the article that kitchen pantry staples, for example, salt, pepper, and cooking fats, are not included in the ingredient count as most home cooks have them around. This recipe is four ingredients excluding salt, pepper, cooking oil, and butter.
 
Adrianne P. November 12, 2018
Thanks.
 
Daniel H. November 9, 2018
Can you substitute coconut milk with heavy cream? Looks awesome but dairy is not always kind to me.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. November 13, 2018
Hi Daniel! I haven't tested this recipe with a non-dairy milk or cream, so I can't say for sure—and I wouldn't want you to find out that it doesn't work on Thanksgiving. Your best bet would be a mini test run before the holiday: Sauté 10 ounces sliced mushrooms, deglaze with 1 1/2 cups coconut milk, and reduce until thick. Another option to consider: Make an ultra-thick cashew cream (https://food52.com/recipes/20679-classic-cashew-cream) and stir that into the sautéed mushrooms; you would just have to warm it up, versus reduce, since you can control the thickness when making the cashew cream.
 
Karin B. November 13, 2018
I was going to ask about non-dairy cream and also non-dairy butter (vegan guests). I will do a test run this weekend! thanks
 
elisamama November 9, 2018
Looks delicious! Can any part of this recipe be made in advance, day before or morning of Thanksgiving and if so, any suggestions for reheating? Maybe the beans, shallots and mushrooms all made separately and then assembled prior to dinner? Also, any suggestions for dairy free cream subs?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. November 13, 2018
Thanks! You can boil the green beans a couple days in advance, keep in the fridge, and bring to room temperature before adding to the sautéing mushrooms. And you can fry the shallots the morning-of, too. With respect to dairy-free subs, please see my reply above to Daniel. Hope this helps!
 
Eric K. November 6, 2018
So big, yet so little!<br /><br />No, but seriously—canned green beans are the one thing I can't stomach on Thanksgiving. But my brother insists on them, so we always have them. Thank you for creating a version I can eat (and stand cooking! It's so easy!).
 
Author Comment
Emma L. November 13, 2018
Thank you, Eric!