I developed this dish for my friend Jayme’s birthday. Somehow we have gotten in the tradition of cooking a French bistro meal every year in celebration of her day of birth. Last year I attempted duck confit. Two auditions later I had a lot of duck fat and no main course. I punted and planned to make rack of lamb and daupinoise gratin. Escargot, as usual, were the appetizer and of course she was getting a pear clafoutis for her birthday cake. But what to serve as a vegetable? I exhaustively researched vegetable side dishes. I consulted Jaques, Julia, Tony, Thomas and numerous websites and blogs. Nothing, absolutely nothing, ‘went’ with the planned meal.
Now, this may sound like an exaggeration to you, but it was the truth. I had criteria. It could not be salad, we already had a first course. This dish could not contain cream or cheese, that would make the potatoes redundant. It had to be a fall vegetable. It had to be green. And it couldn't be too complicated. Because obviously I wasn’t complicating the matter at all. Artichokes, too messy. Asparagus, uninspired. Brussels sprouts, last year’s news. Spinach, wrong texture. Broccoli, yawn. Zucchini, bigger yawn. I wanted green beans but not just regular old green beans or even green beans almandine. Wait, green beans almandine, then it popped into my head ‘What about green beans with chestnuts?’ Then it grew ‘What about green beans with chestnuts sauteed in the leftover duck fat?’
When I had it worked out in my head I knew it was going to be good. How could it not be? I ran out and bought a jar of chestnuts and came home and made it for Jim that night. The green beans got the eye roll of approval from Jim. The chestnuts caramelize, the green beans remain crisp with a little char and the duck fat provides a sweet, earthy background. We have decided it is the perfect side dish for Thanksgiving. We served it last year and we are serving it again this year and I suspect the year after and the year after.
Green Beans & Chestnuts Sauteed in Duck Fat - Serves 6
1 lb. green beans, ends trimmed
2 tablespoons duck fat, rendered
12 chestnuts sliced in to 1/4” slices
Heat a pot of salted water and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile prepare an ice bath. Blanch the green beans in the salted water for 1 minute. Plunge in the ice bath. Let cool in the ice bath for several minutes. Drain and dry the green beans. This step can be done the night before. Heat the duck in a heavy bottomed skillet over medium high heat until sizzling loudly (about 1 minute). Add the green beans and the chestnuts at the same time. Saute until green beans have taken on a slight char or patina and the chestnuts have caramelized, about 4 minutes. Finish with salt and serve.