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Glazing Carrots for Sweet, Simple Sides

This classic technique works best with complementary flavorings that won’t mask the root’s delicate sweetness

Fine Cooking Issue 55
Photos: Sarah Jay
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There’s never a shortage of carrots in my house. Every time I go to the grocery store, I think to myself, “I’d better get a few carrots.” Then I get home and discover that I still have some in the fridge. I’m paranoid about not having them around for making soups, stocks, and braises, so my crisper is never empty. And occasionally it gets quite full. It’s at times like this, when I’m staring at a bin full of carrots, that I start to remember all the other delicious ways I can cook them. One of my favorite ways to bring out the sweet, delicate side of this hardy vegetable is by glazing.  

Glazing is an easy way to transform the humble carrot into a simple but special side dish, perfect to accompany a holiday roast but equally at home next to a slice of meatloaf. This classic technique involves cooking the carrots with a small amount of water, butter, and sugar. As the carrots cook, they release their juices, which mingle with the butter and sugar, eventually forming a sweet glaze. The carrots become sweet and tender, tasting just a little more intense than they do raw. In other words, the glaze should enhance the vegetable’s flavor, not mask it. This method works well for many other vegetables, but glazed carrots are by far my favorite.  

Make an effort to buy carrots that are naturally sweet and crisp. If I have an opportunity, I’ll nibble on the tail end of one or two carrots before I commit to buying. It’s surprising how much their flavor can vary with age, freshness, and variety. Carrots with their green tops still attached are a good indicator of freshness, but looks can be deceiving; don’t automatically pass on the big, bulky carrots, which can be just as sweet.

Four ways to cut a carrot

I think carrots are one of the most fun vegetables to work with because of the many ways you can cut them. For glazing, you can use just about any cut you want, as long as the pieces are about the same size and shape, which helps them cook evenly. It’s easier to accomplish this if you start with whole carrots that are all about the same width, and if they’re more cylindrical than conical; carrots with wide tops and thin tips are tricky to cut evenly. Sometimes I use baby carrots (not those machined “baby carrots” sold in plastic bags, but real baby carrots, sold with their tops); left whole or halved lengthwise, they’re also an attractive option. Keep in mind that the thicker and larger cuts will take longer to cook.

Oval slices: Cut the carrot into 1/4-inch oval slices with a sharp diagonal cut (on the bias).
Diamonds: Cut the carrot in half lengthwise. Cut the halves into 1- or 2-inch lengths (measured point to point) with a sharp diagonal cut.
Roll cut: Trim the tip of the carrot with a sharp diagonal cut. Roll the carrot 180 degrees and cut off a 1-inch piece, keeping your knife at the same diagonal angle as the original cut. Continue to roll and cut the carrot in this way. If the carrot widens dramatically toward the top, adjust the knife angle and carrot length so the pieces are all about the same size.
Half moons: Cut the carrot in half lengthwise. Cut each half into 1/4-inch slices with a sharp diagonal cut.

Follow these tips for the best glazed carrots

• Use a sauté pan that’s large enough to hold the carrots in a single layer—a straight-sided 10- to 12-inch sauté pan works well. This is important so the carrots cook quickly and at the same rate.

• If you’re cooking for more than six people, use two pans or cook the carrots in batches, reheating the earlier batches just before serving.

• You can use a cooking liquid other than water, such as vegetable or chicken broth, but I tend to choose water because it lets the carrots’ own flavor come through.

• Cover the pan with the lid slightly askew once the liquid comes to a boil. This lets some steam escape so that, ideally, the carrots will be cooked by the time most of the water has evaporated.

• Cook the carrots until the tip of a paring knife enters the carrots easily but still with the barest touch of resistance. I like my glazed carrots tender with a hint of toothiness left, but you might prefer them slightly firmer or softer, so taste a carrot to find your preference.

• When the carrots are done, remove the lid and boil the remaining liquid until it evaporates and forms a syrup. Shake the pan to roll the pieces around and evenly coat them in the glaze. You can serve the carrots just like this, or you can top them with a sprinkling of chopped fresh herbs.

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