Published September 1, 2012. From Cook's Illustrated.
Slow-cooking in a rich tomato sauce produces uniquely supple green beans infused with big flavor. Could we keep the ultra-tender texture but shortcut the process?
There are two problems: First, it takes at least 2 hours of cooking to turn the beans ultra-tender. Second, by the time the skins have fully softened, the interiors have practically disintegrated.
We wanted velvety-soft beans that remained intact and required less than an hour of cooking time.
The pectin in green beans breaks down more slowly in an acidic environment, so one of the key components of the dish—tomatoes—was lengthening the cook time. Ditching the tomatoes wasn’t an option. But fortunately, it’s just as easy to speed up the breakdown of pectin as it is to slow it down—all you need is an alkaline environment, which is as simple as adding baking soda to the pot.
We prepared the braising liquid—minus the tomatoes—and simmered the beans until they had softened. We then added diced tomatoes and tomato paste (for sweetness and depth) and transferred the pot to a low oven, where the beans became uniformly soft but not at all mushy.
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