It’s crunch time, alright. Exactly one week until we sit down to the year’s biggest food holiday. By now, many people have their Thanksgiving menus planned and might even be prepping sides and pies. I’m feeling a little behind because I haven’t yet decided on my contributions to this year’s family feast. I tried out two recipes this weekend, though, and I might just make them both next Thursday.
Ed made an observation a couple of weeks ago about the state of the Thanksgiving meal: he said there’s no crunch. At first, I argued with his point — what about the topping on the green bean casserole? Or the snap of green beans vinaigrette? But I knew I wasn’t going to win. He’s right — there is nothing on the table that can fairly be called “crunchy.” The meal has probably evolved to have minimal crunchiness because too much would fatigue the jaw and we wouldn’t be able to eat as much. Putting evolution and history aside, it’s hard to deny that Thanksgiving needs a little shake-up in the texture department.
The first side I tried was an adaptation of the hatch chile corn pudding from the November issue of Martha Stewart Living. The corn pudding was creamy, corny, and a tiny bit spicy, all welcome characteristics for any Thanksgiving plate. It’s also soft and jiggly, textures that are already very well covered by other dinner table players. To earn the corn pudding a place on the buffet, I baked it with a topping of torn bread pieces that had been tossed in melted butter. The bread turned into jagged, golden brown croutons. The pieces were big enough so that almost every bite of pudding had some real crunch. This was not the little crispiness that comes with a sprinkle of panko, but a big, buttery shatter-crunch (so loud that I had to turn up the volume on the TV). The corn pudding was good without the bread pieces, but that topping made it a star.
The second side I tested was a direct magazine-to-table recreation of Southern Living’s balsamic green beans. The beans were featured on a spread about how to re-imagine green bean casserole. I happen to be a big fan of green bean casserole when made using Alton Brown’s recipe, but I know in my heart of hearts that the fried onion topping is only slightly crunchy. The balsamic beans from Southern Living work hard to be crunchy: they are blanched, coated with a buttery balsamic glaze, and topped with almonds, bacon, and fried shallots. This dish was another success: the flavors marry perfectly and it took a lot of crunching to get through a serving. The recipe is slightly impractical, though, because it requires frying the shallots. On Thanksgiving, when there is so much to do, it’s hard to imagine wanting to take the time to fry a few batches of cute little shallot rings. My fried shallots didn’t even stay crispy for very long — I had to toast them with the crumbled bacon shortly before serving to liven up the texture. The flavor of the shallots was really perfect with the balsamic glaze, though, so they can’t be cut entirely. I think caramelizing them might solve the fry problem without sacrificing flavor or too much texture (the fried shallots are not notably crunchy). This could be a good dish to bring to a Thanksgiving potluck, as each component can be prepared separately and the glaze making and finishing touches only require a few minutes on the stove top.
Hatch Chile Corn Pudding via Martha Stewart Living (for crouton topping, tear day old white bread into enough pieces to cover the top of your casserole dish; toss the pieces in melted butter (~3 tbsps); scatter the butter coated pieces over the pudding batter; bake as directed)