I’m sorry, but you no longer have any excuses. That boring steamed broccoli has got to go. Because making a fast and flavorful vegetable side dish on a weeknight is not hard. The technique I’m going to show you here is straightforward, the vegetables—carrots, green beans, or mushrooms—don’t take much time to prep, and you don’t need to have a lot of exotic ingredients on hand. Best of all, the results are delicious.
Brown is my favorite color. The editors here at Fine Cooking like to give me a hard time about how much I love to brown my food. The reason I do this is that I have a sweet tooth, and when you sauté vegetables over fairly high heat, not only do they brown but their sugars also caramelize. They then taste nutty and sweet. So the first step in these sautés is to brown the vegetables over medium-high heat. Conveniently, the vegetables will also be cooked through by the time they’re browned. Just be sure you’re using a good-quality sauté pan (see the panel below) and that you don’t have your heat up too high, or the vegetables may brown too fast or even burn before they’re tender.
Push the flavors: Add garlic or ginger and a simple glaze. Once the vegetables are browned, I toss in a bit of minced garlic or ginger (or both), and cook it quickly just until softened and aromatic. (If I added these at the beginning, they’d burn.) Then I add a flavorful mixture of something sweet and something tangy (maple syrup and lime juice or brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, for example) to deglaze the pan. Deglazing is simply the process of unsticking all those good browned bits from the bottom of the pan—you add something liquidy and scrape vigorously. The mixtures I’m adding here deglaze the pan and add flavor to the vegetables while also creating a bit of a glaze to gild your side dish.
Let them sit. I find that letting these vegetables sit for five to ten minutes after cooking actually improves their flavor. So not only are these green beans and carrots and mushrooms doable for a weeknight, but they’re flexible too. Start prepping and cooking them first, and if your steak or chicken needs time to catch up, they’ll be glad to wait patiently.
Three secrets to great flavor
1. Brown your vegetables
2. Toss in an aromatic
3. Deglaze with a flavorful liquid
The workhorse: Choosing a 10-inch straight-sided sauté pan
I was down in the test kitchen the other day, and I noticed that I’m not the only one who loves a heavy-duty straight-sided sauté pan—there were three stacked up right under the stove. Ours (and mine) are all made by All-Clad. They’re 10 inches in diameter across the top but are sold as 3-quart pans.
We happen to own the All-Clads because we bought them years ago before a lot of other good pans came on the market, but in a side-by-side review we did in Fine Cooking #71, the All-Clad squeaked by three other very good pans, made by KitchenAid, Sur La Table, and Viking, to take the top spot because of its even heating.
Regardless of what brand you buy, make sure your pan is heavy and has an aluminum or copper core sandwiched between its stainless-steel interior and its stainless, aluminum, or copper exterior. The pan should also have a snug lid and stay-cool handles. A pan like this is not inexpensive, but you’ll find that you use it constantly, whether you’re sautéing onions, searing a chicken breast, making a quick pasta sauce, or braising anything. With its lid and straight sides, it’s a must-have for anything that finishes with a sauce.