I grew up eating a lot of canned vegetables, mostly at my grandmother’s house but occasionally at home. (I was a big fan of making pizza bagels in the toaster oven, and often use canned mushrooms as a topping.) My mum used them sparingly, but it was the only kind of vegetable my grandmother cooked with, even if that vegetable was potatoes.
My grandmother hated cooking, but I loved eating her food, probably because she “seasoned” everything with lots and lots of butter. Her go-to canned vegetable prep method involved dropping an entire stick of butter into a microwave-safe dish with a few cans of the Vegetable of the Evening, then nuking it all until it was hot.
My canned vegetable hack is similar, with one important distinction: I brown the butter first (and I use a little less of it). Browning the butter fills your kitchen with the intoxicating aroma of roasty, toasty butter solids, signalling to everyone in the house that you are cooking, and distracting them from any cans they may see lying around.
Then there is the flavour, the wonderfully deeply browned flavour, brought to you by golden, toasted milk solids that are suspended in a pool of pure butterfat. This, my friends, is the taste of luxury — decidedly French luxury if you call it “beurre noisette” — and it obscures the more processed flavours you often find in a can of vegetables.
Two or three tablespoons of butter per can of vegetables should be enough. Place the (unsalted) butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. The water will foam and boil off, and you’ll see the milk solids fall to the bottom of the pan. Keep cooking, swirling the butter, until they turn a deep amber colour, then add your canned vegetables to the pan and stir it all together. Season with salt and pepper to taste. It works with peas, beans, potatoes (mash ‘em up a bit), mushrooms (they get kind of fried), corn, hominy, carrots, and most other canned vegetables.
If you want your dish to look as luxurious as it tastes, brown a little extra butter, reserve a tablespoon or so, then drizzle it on top of the plated product and sprinkle on a smattering of fresh herbs. (Red pepper flakes work, too.)