Bound for Beanville

Blue Lake green beans can’t be topped, especially in this salad from chef Paul Canales.


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Photo by Lori Eanes

Known for their sweet, summery, slightly grassy flavor and satisfying, string-free snap, fresh Blue Lake green beans set the standard at markets everywhere—but what’s with the name?

The answer can be found a couple of hours’ drive north, in Lake County’s Blue Lakes region. There, in the late 1800s, lakeshore resort owners Henry and Elizabeth Wambold received so many compliments on their exceptionally plump, sweet, garden-grown green beans that they began to can and share them. Seeing demand—and dollar signs—the Wambolds opened a small cannery and brought in nearby farmer Adolphus Mendenhall to help with development and production.

The canned beans quickly rose to fame and found their way across the world and onto the tables of kings and presidents. Blue Lakes-brand green beans grew to become that area’s largest industry. Though the “s” in “Blue Lakes” was eventually dropped, the varietal was purloined and cultivated elsewhere (keeping the name), and the last of the original canneries closed in 1967, the Blue Lake green bean remains the bean to beat, especially at peak season.

Photo by Lori Eanes

Paul Canales whips up a little fun with Blue Lake beans.

“Early Blue Lake beans are astonishing for two reasons,” said Paul Canales, executive chef and owner of Duende, a Spanish-inspired restaurant in Oakland. “They are tender but meaty. And if you look inside the pod, you’ll see this incredible gel sac, filled with the nutrients that feed the inner seeds. That gel is delicious.”

Though young beans are prized for their top-tier, tender sweetness, fresh Blue Lake green beans are flavorful all season. Unlike more delicate varietals such as haricots vert, Blue Lake beans are chubbier, more vibrant.

“If you like green beans, these are the ones,” said Canales.

Shopping for the best Blue Lake beans is easy, he said.

“You’ve got to snap a raw one, and it’s got to really snap,” said Canales. “When you hear that sound, that crack, you know it’s very fresh, and wherever they’ve grown those beans, it can’t be far away.”

Canales blanches and shocks them until they are crisp-tender and serves them with a very special ancient Roman condiment—oenogarum, a blend of grape-must syrup, and garum, a fermented fish sauce.

 

Blue Lake Bean Salad

From Executive Chef Paul Canales, Duende

 

Oenogarum

2 tablespoons garum

1 tablespoon arrope

2 teaspoons Cava vinegar

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

 

In a nonreactive bowl, mix garum, arrope, and vinegar together, then vigorously whisk in olive oil. Set aside. (Garum can be found at specialty shops and substitutes include the Italian anchovy condiment colatura di alici or Thai fish sauce. Arrope, a Spanish grape-must concentrate, can be found specialty shops, or an Italian version, soba, can be substituted.)

 

For the Salad

 

1 tablespoon salt

Ice water

6 ounces Blue Lake beans, trimmed

2 tablespoons pine nuts

24 cherry tomatoes, cut in half crosswise

1/3 cup mixed olives

Leaves from 4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

 

Bring a pot of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Meanwhile, fill a clean bowl with ice water. Add trimmed beans to the boiling water and blanche 2 to 3 minutes. Remove them, immediately adding them to ice water to stop the cooking. Meanwhile, add the pine nuts to a dry pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until toasted to a light golden brown. Remove from heat to cool.

In a large bowl, mix the beans, cherry tomatoes, olives, and thyme with the Kosher salt and the olive oil. Arrange that on a chilled platter. Spoon oenogarum over the mixture and top with pine nuts.

 

Published online on June 30, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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