I don’t consider myself to a be a food authority by any means but I have been asked several times over the years for advice on cooking fresh green beans. Once, someone asked how I made them and before I could answer, added “I bet you fix them Kentucky style though, don’t you?”
I wasn’t sure what she meant. She almost made it sound like a bad thing. (I should add that she is not a Kentucky native, bless her heart.) I’d never really thought about it but I guess since I was born and raised here in Kentucky, everything I cook is Kentucky style.
So here’s my “Kentucky style” method of cooking green beans. It is not vegetarian, I will warn you that upfront.
I have here about 8 cups of broken green beans with the strings removed. Rule 1: We don’t cut our beans in Kentucky. We break them or snap them. Yes, the pieces will be somewhat uneven. That’s just how we roll. You’ll want to rinse your broken beans a couple of times to get all of the garden dirt off of them. This leads me to Rule 2: If you can’t grow your beans yourself, it’s best to obtain your beans from a farmers market or from someone with a garden. I have never seen a fresh green bean at a supermarket that I’d want to take home. If you live in a small town that has a Mom and Pop grocery that actually uses local produce, it might be a different story.
If you don’t know salt pork, you don’t know beans. And that goes for cooking pinto beans, too. You can find salt pork in the bacon section of your supermarket. If you can’t find it-and it’s possible it’s a regional item, I have no idea-you could also use a chunk of thick slab bacon, a hunk of ham or a ham hock.
Pour your beans into a large pot and add water. You want enough water to cook the beans without them going dry but not so much that you end up with a ton of liquid. It’s a hard call. For this batch, I used about 4 cups of water and it worked out well. I cut off about a 2 inch slab of salt pork and placed it in the middle on top of the beans. I give the pot a generous shake of salt. Cover, and bring to a boil.
Now, you can continue on here cooking your beans for about an hour. Just check them every so often to make sure you still have enough water. Give them another generous shake of salt now and then. Or you can do what’s popular here in Kentucky, and cook some potatoes on top.
I wait until my beans are boiling to add my potatoes. Use fresh, small new potatoes. I did not have any such potatoes so I used some small red ones from the supermarket. Wash them and slice them in half, and lay them on top of your beans. They will basically steam themselves done for a light almost creamy texture.
As I said earlier, about an hour of cooking will do it for a batch this size. A popular myth is that we cook our beans in the South until they are mush. That’s not true, or at least that’s not how I cook beans. I like mine tender but firm enough to hold their shape when you give the pot a gentle stir.
Here, I have failed you dear readers, because I do not have a photo of the finished product. They smelled so good and I was so hungry, I just didn’t have the time!