Pole beans, also known as runner beans, are large, blade-shaped green beans with a somewhat rough texture. Compared to regular green beans, they are thicker, tougher and require a longer cooking time, but properly prepared pole beans are even more flavorful and just as versatile as their more widely consumed cousins.
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Top, Tail and String
All but the youngest pole beans have a tough string along their sides that is very unpleasant to eat and must be removed. With a sharp paring knife, slice the tips off the ends of each pole bean, as well as the outer edges of both long sides. Alternatively, snap off the ends of the beans with your fingers, pulling the attached strings away at the same time.
French, Sliver or Slice
You can cook pole beans whole, after topping, tailing and stringing them, but most preparations require that you cut the beans into smaller pieces. Cut them thinly on the diagonal, into evenly sized, horizontal pieces -- 1/2 inch or smaller is best -- or pass the pole beans through a Frenching tool to create neat, thin slivers.
How to Cook Pole Beans
Steam or boil pole beans in salted water for 5 to 20 minutes, tasting the beans often to determine when they have become tender. The wide range in cooking times accounts for personal preference -- some like pole beans to be very tender, while others prefer a little bite -- as well as the size of the cut and age of the beans. Older, tougher beans will take longer to cook than younger ones. For a braised pole bean dish, include other ingredients and just enough liquid to cover all of the beans, then gently simmer until the beans are soft.
Seasoning and Serving Suggestions
Enjoy steamed or boiled pole beans with nothing more than a little salt and pepper, or toss them with butter and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Slivered almonds or hazelnuts make a nice addition, as do roasted chestnuts.
For Southern-style pole beans, braise them for at least 45 minutes with diced bacon or salt pork, garlic, chicken stock and a generous pat of butter. Enhance these flavors with a splash of red wine vinegar or hot sauce before serving.
While cooked pole beans are still steaming, toss them with a little cream and some fresh herbs. Tarragon and parsley work well. Grated Parmesan and Gruyere create a nice cheesy sauce when tossed with hot pole beans.
Include pole beans in a vegetable curry by braising them with onions, any other vegetables you like and a curry paste. For some of the liquid, add canned tomatoes to complement Indian curry pastes or coconut milk with Thai curry pastes.
Pole beans make a great addition to grain-based salads, risottos, minestrone soup, quiche or in any recipe that calls for regular green beans.