Some food, some drink.
A Root Rescued from Mediocrity: Brown Butter and Ginger Glazed Baby Carrots.
Have you ever had one of those meals where you were more excited about what was being served on the side? This recipe for glazed baby carrots will have ya going back for seconds before you're finished with what's front and center on that plate. The dish begins by browning the crap out of the root du jour in a bit of butter, and finishes those batons of beta carotene with with a toss of ginger and raw sugar. Step aside there Mr. Sirloin, because today it's all about putting a solid sear on the vegetables!
Where veggies are concerned, ours is a house fueled by baby carrots. I eat 'em, the kids eat 'em, hell even the dog loves her some baby carrots. Though raw (with a bit of yogurt dip) is the norm, there's absolutely nothing wrong with showing said root vegetable a little heat either. Glazed carrots are a fairly ubiquitous sort of side, and that leaves a lot of latitude for interpretation. Carrots (and especially baby carrots) are sweet by their very nature, and so adding even more sugar to them can be a bit over the top (food snobs call that overly-sweet taste "cloying"). Will we need a bit of sugar to make glazed carrots? Well sure, but rather than simply dumping in some brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, or all of the above (yikes!), I figure that using flavors and cooking techniques that reinforce the natural sweetness of the carrot is a better way to go.
I say if you're gonna cook some carrots, then really cook 'em. Put some brown on that orange and develop the flavors that will showcase the sugar already present in a carrot so you don't need to crutch the whole dish in a syrupy mess. The way I like to glaze carrots starts by searing my roots in a bit of browned butter. After laying the foundation for flavors with copious amounts of Maillard, the carrots are steamed to perfection in an orange juice sauna, and finished with plenty of fresh ginger and a kiss of raw sugar.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
In a 10 inch nonstick skillet, melt the butter on medium-high heat. When the butter just starts to brown, add the carrots and let 'em sit in the pan for 5 minutes and don't you dare touch 'em! At the end of 5, give 'em a stir and add the O.J. and the salt. Cover, reduce heat to low, and steam for 10 minutes. At the end of 10, keep the heat on low and add the sugar, ginger and black pepper. stir to integrate and let simmer for a minute or two or until the glaze starts to thicken just a bit. Move to a plate to serve and garnish with some minced chive.
- If you follow what they've done with baby carrots in the last couple of decades (hey a guy's gotta have a hobby right?), then you too have become aware of the baby carrot's rise to stardom. There's really no regulation on the labels, but historically speaking, baby carrots are supposed to be different from baby "cut" carrots as the former has always been little and is not a standard sized carrot peeled and cut into neat little two-inch fingers. Nowadays, the labels are so ambiguous (the last bag I bought was labeled "mini peeled carrots") that I don't even think looking for the word "cut" on the front of the bag is gonna tell you anything about the carrot of origin. The bottom line is that I've had some truly-awful tasting baby carrots, and I've had some that are sweet, crisp and generally excellent. Nine outta ten times, I think it's a batch specific thing. Find a brand you like, and go with it. If you get more than one bad-tasting bag (two is a pattern, right?), go with another brand.
- The only tedium involved in this recipe is the time it takes to slice those carrots lengthwise. You're looking at slicing somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 baby carrots total (of course I counted 'em for ya). Slicing a rounded object along its length can be a little precarious, but if your knife is sharp and you keep your fingers out of the way, then you should be able to quickly and efficiently slice each baby carrot using a single rocking motion starting with the tip of your knife on the board and pivoting back to the handle. The extra five minutes involved here not only promotes a more even cooking, but also creates more flat edges to which you can apply a generous browning.
- Sometimes those bagged carrots have a tendency to be a bit wet. I would recommend drying them all off a little before dumping them in the pan. First, you're going to prevent some grease from splattering about and second, the sooner you get the surface water out of the way the sooner you can start applying the sear. Incidentally, this is the same reason we want the surface of meats to be dry before we grill.
- You'll know it's time to add the carrots because the butter will have just stopped foaming up, and that froth will just be starting to turn brown and smelling a bit nutty. Wait too long to add the carrots, and the dairy solids will separate and burn. The extra thermal mass of the carrots slows that process down, ensuring that you're cooking in browned butter and not blackened butter (ewww).
- On the browning, don't you dare move those carrots around in the pan for the first five minutes. Seriously, resist the temptation! If you're not give a good bit of conductive heat to the edges of the carrots, then you might as well be doing this dish in the microwave.
- The ingredient list isn't real demanding for this recipe, so there shouldn't be a bunch of whining about the use of fresh ginger. I've tried using the powdered stuff, and it just ain't the same. Fresh ginger adds the brightness that's needed to finish this dish. You'll need it grated up pretty fine; and while I don't own a more traditional ceramic grater (or a piece of sharkskin for that matter), my Microplane handles the task more than sufficiently.
- You like 'em sweeter? Or maybe the ginger is a wee bit overwhelming for your palate? Add sugar by the teaspoon until you're happy. Just don't go crazy; we're shooting for "glazed", not "swimmin' in it".
Y'know what I like best about this dish? It's a glazed carrot recipe with character. We're not afraid to ugly up what the producer and packager as made smooth and pristine in the name of better flavor. Though it's a slightly sweet and nutty flavor that hits your tongue first, it's the bright and spicy notes of the ginger that keep this side dish fresh, even though you've seared the buhjeezus out of a significant proportion of what's hitting the plate. If you're looking for a main dish to play second fiddle to a great tasting side, grilled or roasted pork would be a good place to start.
At a time where everyone's talking about portion control, I reckon that this is a side where's it's safe to pile it high. Depending on your family's penchant for carrots (and for seconds), you might even need to consider rocking two pans. You gotta love it when everyone eats their veggies!