The Secret to Perfectly Roasted Green Beans – Recipe

Perfect Pan-Roasted Green Beans
Perfect Roasted Green Beans

The problem with roasted green beans, whether you do them in the oven or in a hot skillet, is to get those beautiful, caramelized brown spots on the surface of most of the beans without either over- or under-cooking the insides. Run the heat too high and you’ll burn the outside before the inside is done; run it too low and you’ll end up with mush.

The solution is simple, but it involves a two-step cooking process and a tool so feared, hated, and misunderstood that I’m almost afraid to whisper it’s name. Because every time I do, I get comments telling me that I’m poisoning my food, destroying the nutrients, etc. etc. But science must persevere, people. That tool is: the microwave.

Now take a deep breath. I won’t bore you with all of the facts, but let’s just hit a couple. Microwave ovens use, you guessed it, microwave radiation. Microwave radiation is not any form of nuclear radiation. It doesn’t make your food radioactive, not even a teensy little bit. It is electromagnetic radiation. You know: like light, and radio waves. A microwave oven works by exciting the water molecules in your food, which heat up and cook the surrounding material. So it is akin to steaming or boiling but with the marked advantage that food cooks inside as much as outside. Evidence is that, used correctly, it actually retains more of the nutrients in food than more conventional cooking methods.

Then there are the folks who aren’t scared of microwaves, but think they only are used for heating up desperation frozen meals. But that, again, is a misunderstanding. The biggest problem with the microwave is the same as with boiling or steaming. It makes your food tender and cooked, but since nothing goes above 212 F / 100 C, you don’t get any browning. This is where the two step cooking process comes in. We’ll use the microwave to par-cook the green beans, then finish them quickly in a wicked hot skillet. By separating the cook-through and searing steps, we get to control both aspects.

Interestingly, I know I’m not the only person who uses this method (not just for green beans – I often do it with carrots, broccoli, small potatoes, etc.), but I rarely if ever see it mentioned in cookbooks. My old friend Spike works this way a lot, I know, because we’ve exchanged several emails on the subject. Any other microwave & then sear aficionados out there?

Once you’ve got your caramelized green beans, you can either stop right there and finish them with Maldon salt and some good olive oil, or you can take them in any flavor direction you like. For example, glaze them with a bit of sherry vinegar and smoked paprika for a Spanish approach, or with lemon juice, garlic, olives and feta to head to Greece. (Stop a little early on the sear if you do this; otherwise when you add a bit of liquid they tend to overcook.) If you are making a stir-fry and don’t have a jet-sized wok burner, the same trick works – microwave the beans to nearly tender, then finish in a hot wok.

Perfect Roasted Green Beans
Vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and kosher
Serves 4 as a side dish
15 minutes

  • 1 pound of green beans
  • Vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Sea salt, preferably Maldon
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Trim your green beans. I like to remove just the stem end, but if you want to do both ends that is ok too. By the way, try doing this task with kitchen shears. I find it to be much faster than with my knife. 
  2. Preheat your largest skillet, preferably cast iron, over high heat. (Don’t do this with a non-stick pan, it isn’t safe at these temperatures.)
  3. Rinse the green beans and leave a bit of water clinging to them. Place them in a microwave-safe bowl with a lid and microwave on high power for 1 minute, then carefully toss with tongs and return to the microwave. Repeat the covering, microwaving and tossing 1 minute or less at a time until the beans have turned a brighter shade of green, but with still have a noticeable firmness about them. In my microwave the total time is only about 2 minutes.
  4. Leave the skillet on high heat. Add a couple of tablespoons of the vegetable oil to the skillet and immediately add the beans, using tongs so as to leave any water behind in the bowl. Add a big pinch of Kosher salt and toss the beans, then spread them out evenly in the pan. Cook, tossing only occasionally, until there are many browned spots on the beans, about 3 minutes
  5. Transfer your beautifully caramelized green beans to a serving platter and finish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a nice scattering of sea salt.
Print Friendly and PDF
Posted by Michael Natkin on Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013 in Gluten-Free or modifiable, Kid Friendly, Recipes, Side Dishes, Vegan or Modifiable.

18 Responses to “The Secret to Perfectly Roasted Green Beans – Recipe”

  1. Anne-Marie
    September 3, 2013 at 6:48 am #

    Yep, this is how I do them, too! (And home fries for Sunday brunch, and grilled broccoli, and browned carrots, and browned corn kernels, cauliflower, zucchini…) For snappier beans, subtract ~45 seconds from the bright green done-time before putting them in the hot skillet.

    I got a mess of beans at the farmers’ market this weekend – I think I’ll make them again this way tonight for dinner!

  2. Aseem Agarwala
    September 3, 2013 at 8:11 am #

    What do you use for a “microwave-safe bowl with lid”? Everything that I’ve seen involves plastic, and microwave-heated plastic in contact with food concerns me.

    • September 3, 2013 at 8:22 am #

      I usually use a glass or pyrex bowl and cover it with a ceramic plate. They do get hot as hell though, be sure to use towels or potholders to handle them if you go that route.

  3. Sandra Holt
    September 3, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    link to curezone.com

    Are you on the payroll of a microwave oven company?
    Are you a scientist?

    Please don’t take on the flippant reviews of microwave energy produced by vested interests.

    Do your homework. Do you really want to be responsible for harming the life of anyone by giving your unscientific appraisal of microwave energy?

    Read the entire article, above, by Prevention. Take a few more minutes to search for more REAL scientific studies.

    And don’t tell a scientist or anyone that microwave energy is benign.

  4. September 3, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

    Michael ~ I asked your opinion about the “nuke” about 6 months ago, when you confirmed you use it willy-nilly and without heebee-jeebies. I find it’s my purest vegetarian friends who live in horror of the contraption, so your feedback was most worthwhile.

    Since then, I’ve read several articles regarding the very low electromagnetic output of microwaves; the security of their construction so that even this is not emitted outside of the unit itself; and a pre-caution that your nuke may be emitting if the door gasket is breaking down. This goes to how much sensitivity to light-bulb emissions one is willing to endure. In my researched opinion, the microwave is no more dangerous than the streetlights out at the curb. Grapple your own way, regarding.

    I use the nuke in preparations precisely like this recipe, and also bake bread puddings, pre-cook onions, garlic and mushrooms, casserole molten dips, cook pastas and potatoes and quick scratch soups. With this, and the crock-pot, I’ve literally cut the gas bill for my oven out of my budget.

    As to containers: yes to the ceramics and glass. The potholders now live over the nuke instead of next to the stove.

    • September 3, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

      Glad to hear it! Agree, the one real risk that I know of is if you have a microwave that doesn’t actually seal, then you could be lightly cooking yourself, which isn’t good. If you are still using a 1973 Amana Radar-range, you sure might want to think about replacing it…

  5. Michelle
    September 3, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    Do you think a glass plate would work as a lid? Thanks!

    • September 3, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

      Seems like it should be fine, as long as it is heat tolerant. Just be careful not to burn yourself.

  6. Robyn
    September 3, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

    Broad beans grilled/broiled are delicious when popped out of their blackened pods – try next spring!

  7. September 5, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    i could never roast beans so well..thanks for the tips

  8. Beth
    September 5, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    The microwave-pan sear is perfect for brussels sprouts. Yum!

  9. September 10, 2013 at 2:20 am #

    Now i know the secret!

  10. Kelly
    September 15, 2013 at 7:22 am #

    What do you recommend if a person doesn’t have a microwave? I’ve lived without one for almost 6 years now and even though these look delicious, I’m not likely to buy one for a single side dish recipe.

    (Love all these recipes, by the way! You have helped me become a vegetarian with your To Fu recipes! )

    • September 15, 2013 at 7:34 am #

      Thanks, Kelly! If you don’t have a microwave, some things you can try:

      - steaming
      - parboil
      - steaming in the saute pan with a small amount of water and a lid, then remove the lid, let them dry off on the heat and and oil

      The reason I prefer the microwave is it uses fewer pots than steaming, doesn’t require you to wait for water to boil, and is easier to control than the last method. But they all work.

  11. Stefan Rusek
    September 22, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

    I use a variation of this for perfect hash browns. I grate the potatoes and press as much liquid out of them as possible. Salt and pepper then, then microwave them with some stirring them every 30 seconds or so. When they are almost done enough to eat throw them into a skillet to brown.

  12. October 7, 2013 at 1:30 am #

    The green beans look delicious!

    Many times simple recipes are the best. :)

    Right now, there is a vegetarian festival all over Thailand. It’s a great way to sample Thai vegetarian dishes.

    • October 7, 2013 at 9:20 am #

      Thailand Breeze ~ can you send up a link ?

Leave a Reply