We're very excited to welcome writer, photographer, and cook Michael Harlan Turkell back to the virtual pages of Serious Eats. In this series, Michael will share some of his favorite recipes that use the broiler, one of the most powerful and underutilized tools in the home kitchen.
Dilly beans are divisive. There are those who prefer the slender pod when it's pickled. I, for one, like the snap of a fresh green bean; warmed by the sun, it packs a summer crunch as viscerally satisfying as any I know. I don't mean this as a slight to all you pickled-bean lovers out there, but why brine a perfectly fine green bean?
Or maybe I'm just missing something. After all, I love pickles, and I love vinegar even more. I’ve just never been able to get past a pickled green bean’s pallid shade and sodden texture. Still, I know that a pickle's acidic pop is enlivening; the bouquet of dill, aromatics, and spice adds character.
This led to an idea: What if I made a quick-pickled version of dilly beans so that I could retain some of the raw characteristics I love while adding that vinegar tang, herbal punch, and veil of spicy heat? This meant abandoning a long, drawn-out vinegar bath in favor of a very quick, hot one.
I started to envision these beans as a side to a fatty protein like salmon, for an easy dinner that came together in well under half an hour. And I'd use the intense heat of my broiler to make it all happen.
My first step was to visit the supermarket to pick up a few jarred samples of “dilly beans,” just so I could analyze the flavor. In all of the jars I bought, there sat the requisite garlic clove, a plentiful pinch of dill seeds, and a slurry of chili flakes, all swimming in a pickling liquid. Often a whole hot pepper was packed in there, too, just to prove a point (it’s spicy!), while some brands even added straight-up Tabasco.
The heavy hand with chile showed a total disregard for the dill, which I had assumed was the most important ingredient in a “dilly" bean. My version would correct this, adjusting the spiciness to a more balanced level while pushing the dill flavor forward.
After playing with several iterations of the idea, here's where I ended up: I start by salting the green beans and blasting them, along with a split garlic clove, under the broiler to drive off some of their water content. Green beans will blister and puff when they’re "dry-fried," and the garlic will become fragrant. This sets them up nicely to both give and receive flavor in the quick-pickling to come.
Once they're done, I add vinegar to the skillet, along with a pinch of cayenne and a handful of chopped fresh dill to finish, which offers a bolder, more vibrant dill flavor than merely adding dill seeds.
On top of that goes a nice hunk of fatty salmon. I generally prefer searing fish skin-on to crisp it up, but that won't work under the broiler. Instead, I opted for another approach: smearing the fish with mayonnaise that I'd flavored with even more dill.
The mayo adds to the salmon's tangy richness, which is especially welcome when paired with the tart green beans, but it also bubbles and browns under the broiler while insulating the fish, leading to deeper flavor. The salmon underneath, meanwhile, remains even juicier and more tender, and the dilly beans are the perfect match.
The whole ensemble goes back under the broiler, just long enough for the salmon to cook (including from the vinegar steam wafting up from below) and for the beans to get a short stint in the vinegar bath. Though the green beans become a little more muted in color, they retain much of the snap and freshness of those that are just-picked, while taking on a zippy, spicy vinegar tang that's clean and clear. The result is a quick and perfectly dilly dinner that I can totally get behind.