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Market Matters- Glazed Carrots Shine

carrotsSo this week at the Hollywood Farmers Market I saw bunches of little round French Carrots. They are spectacular raw. They have a very intensified carroty flavor. Just the right size to pop in your mouth. No need to peel these babies.

You can see how pretty they are. They can range in color from pale yellow to nearly crimson. I knew they would be a good choice this week. I hear they get their name because they are easy to grow in shallow window boxes “sur les rues et les avenues de Paris!”

So it seemed like my lucky day. I thought my Market Matters post could be easy this week. I would just say something like “buy French Carrots and eat them raw. No recipe. No cooking. Of course I’d have to find a way to say it in 1000 words. Pas de problem, oui?

But, now that they are here at home I am starting to think that this might be a good time to talk about glazing. Glazing vegetables.

Glazed carrots (get printable recipe here) are a marvel to behold. Beautiful. Shiny. Colorful. They take well to other flavors, but don’t need them to be incredible. It’s such a tremendous technique. It’s a wonder more people don’t practice this method.

People often prepare their veggies in a very after the fact sort of way. I can’t tell you how many great dinner parties I have been to where it’s obvious that the hosts spent a lot of time on one dish or one aspect of the meal. A gorgeous rib roast. A perfect fillet of wild salmon, seared and flavorful on the outside, rare and succulent on the inside. But the accompanying vegetable was practically ignored. Thrown onto the plate as an after thought. Poor little guy. He deserves love too!

But there are no shortcuts to getting this just right. You cannot simply candy them in a saute pan with butter and sugar.
Or worse, toss a few spoonfuls of sugar into boiling water and hope for the best.  Imagine all that flavor you are pouring down the drain once you strain them. It should be a crime! In fact I am writing a letter to the Mayor as soon as I am finished here.

The key to good glazing is balance. They should not be cloyingly sugary. A tiny bit of sugar will accentuate the natural sugars in the vegetable without masking them in gloopy sweetness.

When you get it just right you have an amazing combination of sweet and savory. They are tender and flavorful and quite possibly the very best way to cook root vegetables (glazing, roasting, glazing, roasting…argh, the jury’s still out).

But, honestly it is a technique that takes a bit of time and attention. You might want to practice a few times before that big dinner with the corporate mucky mucks you’d like to impress into giving you a raise. I think it’s worth it though and I hope I can convince you of the same.

Size Matters. About 1 and 1/2 inches is ideal. You know I am talking about vegetables, right?

The little round carrots I am glazing today are naturally about this size. So they are ideal glazing candidates. Other veggies should be peeled, sliced and uniformly turned. You are looking for rounded edges with a beautiful size and shape.

A stunning presentation will be the first hint to your dining companion that they are getting ready to eat something special.

But the size and shape is more than just a pretty pretense. It also helps to control the cooking. A uniform size encourages even cooking.  Also the rounded shape allows the vegetables to roll around the pan, which is essential in proper glazing.

Start by adding your perfectly shaped veggies to the pan. I like a pan with sloped sides as opposed to a standard sauté style pan.

Choose a pan that allows the veggies to cook in as close to a single layer as possible. For large dinner parties you may need to have a couple of pans going at once.

If you are a real maniac and are glazing more than one vegetable to create a medley of sorts on the plate, use a separate pan for each veggie. Cooking times often vary.

Cover your veggies with about 1 inch of water in the pan. Smaller, more delicate vegetables may take less water. But 1 inch is a good “rule of thumb”. Learn by doing.

To the water and vegetables add 1 (scant) teaspoon of sugar and about 1 tablespoon butter per cup of vegetables with a pinch of salt. Bring them to a gentle simmer. Please don’t boil them. Reducing liquids quickly is NEVER a good idea. So plan ahead. Don’t rush it.

When the water has reduced in volume by about half, the butter and sugar will have thickened the mixture into a sauce.

Now the glazing begins. As you continue to reduce roll the vegetables around in the pan. If you are a real show off you can toss the veggies into the air catching them back in the pan. I think they call this “jumping”. I prefer the less stressful method of rolling.

So here’s the tricky part. You need to time it so that the glaze has thickened and coated the veggies at the same time they are perfectly cooked. Tasting is the only way to achieve this. So lucky you!

If you have mis-timed things slightly and the veggies are finished before the glaze. Remove them to a warm plate and continue reducing the glaze. You may return the veggies to the pan at just the right moment and no one will be the wiser. If, on the other side of the scale, maybe they are underdone. The liquid is thick and saucy, but the veggies a bit crunchy still. In this case add a little water. The hotter the better. You don’t want to slow down the cooking with cold water in the pan.’
When they have reached their bright, shiny perfection— season them with a little salt and pepper. Depending on the veggie you can also brighten them up a bit at this stage by adding a splash of vinegar.

There are plenty of other optional seasonings and flavors you can add as well. So use your creativity. Pair the flavors to enhance your meal. Or add a flavor as a counterpoint in a classic yin and yang scenario. Whatever you decide add these enhancements at the beginning. Along with the sugar and butter.

I also like to garnish them with some fresh parsley or chives. But the world is your oyster here. This is your time to shine so make the most of it and choose the seasoning and garnishes that will perfect these little jewels to your own liking.

SERIOUS FUN FOOD

Greg Henry

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