My Recipe Box

Glazing Vegetables for Richer Flavor

by James Peterson

fromFine Cooking
Issue 42

Glazed vegetables are simply too good to make once or twice a year at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Glazing not only gives vegetables a jewel-like sheen but also concentrates their flavor. Another plus: glazed vegetables go well with all kinds of main courses, from a whole beef tenderloin to roast goose. You can serve them on their own in a bowl, but I think they look smashing arranged on a platter with the roast.

Glazing means to cook a vegetable in a small amount of liquid, such as water or broth, with some butter and sugar in a partially covered pan. As the vegetable cooks, it releases its own savory juices into the liquid in the pan. Those juices become concentrated and turn into a light natural syrup as the vegetable cooks. By the time the vegetable is tender, the liquid is almost all gone and the vegetable is coated with a shiny, savory glaze that captures the vegetable’s sweet essence. Two kinds of glazing: white and brown. The two kinds of glazing are determined by how long the vegetable is cooked. A white-glazed vegetable is cooked only long enough for the liquid to evaporate and glaze the vegetable lightly. For a brown glaze, the vegetable is cooked a little longer—often uncovered—until the glaze on the bottom of the pan lightly caramelizes and browns. A small amount of water or broth is then added to dissolve the caramelized juices so that they’ll coat the vegetable. (A little cream added at this stage is also delicious.)

Two kinds of glazing: white and brown. The two kinds of glazing are determined by how long the vegetable is cooked. A white- glazed vegetable is cooked only long enough for the liquid to evaporate and glaze the vegetable lightly. For a brown glaze, the vegetable is cooked a little longer—often uncovered—until the glaze on the bottom of the pan lightly caramelizes and browns. A small amount of water or broth is then added to dissolve the caramelized juices so that they’ll coat the vegetable. (A little cream added at this stage is also delicious.)

Pay attention to heat and timing

For the most even cooking, glaze the vegetable in a pan wide enough to accommodate the pieces in a single layer. I usually add 1 or 2 tablespoons butter and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon sugar per pound of vegetable, and then I season lightly with salt and pepper. I add enough liquid to come about halfway up the sides of the pieces. Partially covering the vegetable for most of the cooking keeps it moist and retains flavor. You can use the pan’s lid, slightly askew, or cut a round of kitchen parchment to fit just inside the pan.

Glazing is fairly straightforward, but the variables involved—the type and size of vegetable, the size of the pan, the amount of liquid, and the-temperature—mean you have to be ready to do some tweaking as the vegetable cooks. Simmer the vegetable gently. If the heat is too high, the liquid will evaporate before the vegetable is tender. This isn’t a problem as long as you’re paying attention—simply add more liquid when needed. On the other hand, if the heat is too low, the vegetable will overcook before the liquid cooks down to a sumptuous glaze. If the vegetable is tender but there’s a lot of liquid left in the pan, turn up-the heat and remove the cover to boil away the liquid.

Start checking for doneness after about 15 minutes, depending on the vegetable. It’s done when all the liquid has evaporated, or, in the case of brown glazing, a brown glaze forms on the bottom of the pan. When done to your liking, add a tablespoon of water to the pan and swirl the vegetable pieces around until they’re coated with a shiny glaze. A sprinkling of finely chopped herbs, such as parsley, basil, mint, or chervil, will give the vegetable a bit of color and a fresh flavor.

Glazed vegetables need a little sugar, butter, liquid, and time
  • Cut large vegetables into chunks or wedges and arrange in a sauté pan just large enough to hold the pieces in a single layer. Add a few pats of butter and a sprinkling of sugar.
  • Add enough liquid to come halfway up the sides of the pieces. Water alone is good, or use half water and half broth for a fuller flavor. A little wine or sherry added near the end boosts flavor.
  • Cover the vegetable pieces with a round of parchment (or a pot lid askew), bring the liquid to a high simmer, and then lower the heat and simmer gently.
  • Start testing after 15 minutes. A knife should penetrate easily with just some slight resistance. Adjust the liquid level depending on doneness.
Experiment with onions and root vegetables
To finish glazing the vegetable, add a tablespoon of water and turn the heat to high. Swirl until the pieces are coated with a shiny glaze. Season and serve.

Heartier vegetables work best because they take a while to cook, allowing the braising liquid to become deliciously concentrated.

Glazed beets have a delicate flavor. I like to use baby beets because they require no peeling or precooking. If you use large beets, boil or roast them first until almost tender and then cut them into wedges before glazing.

Glazed carrots are classic. These are best made with fresh carrots bought with the greens still attached. I cut the carrots into similarsize pieces, and if I’m feeling really fancy I round their edges with a small paring knife. On lazier days, I grab a bag of baby carrots at the supermarket, which already have their edges rounded off (no doubt by some giant machine).

Glazed chestnuts say Christmas and are great with game. I like to use a combination of port and broth for the glazing.

Glazed onions and shallots are a favorite winter dish. Tiny pearl onions are pretty to look at and fun to eat but tedious to peel. Instead, I often search for tiny white onions—walnut-size is best—and glaze those. To make creamed onions, add a quarter cup of cream at the end instead of water and simmer until the cream thickens slightly and coats the onions.

Glazed parsnips need less sugar since they’re naturally sweet. I sometimes leave the sugar out completely when glazing parsnips because too much sugar will mask their subtlety and can also make them too sweet to accompany roasted meats. I cut them in sections as I do carrots.

Glazed turnips are a pleasant surprise. The subtle bitterness of turnips makes a pleasing contrast to the slightly sweet glaze. If you’re using turnips in the middle of winter, parboil peeled and cut-up turnips for 5 minutes to remove some of their bitterness. Glazed turnips are sublime topped with bits of crisp bacon; use some of the bacon fat in place of the butter to glaze them.

While it is possible to glaze different vegetables together —they just need to be cut the same size to cook in the same time—the flavors tend to merge and lose their distinction. To keep the flavors more discrete, I glaze each vegetable separately and combine them just before serving.

Photos: Scott Phillips

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