THE SECRET TO PERFECT TEXTURE IS TO COOK CARROTS VERY SLOWLY
Carrots are having a culinary moment at trendy farm-to-table restaurants, and if you haven’t tried this dish you’re in for a real treat. These new wave carrots have lost their sweet glaze (thank heavens) and taken on a decidedly savory profile. They are served whole, often with some greens attached.
Menus are cryptic about the cooking method, although the words “slow cooked” are common. The best examples of this dish are fork-tender without a hint of mushiness. The carrots have a dense, almost meaty quality and the flavor is super concentrated: sweet and pure, but still earthy.
To produce slow-cooked carrots, most chefs are braising or poaching them in water. And while replicating the clean, pure flavor of this restaurant dish is pretty straightforward (you do have water on hand!), figuring out the secret to achieving their unique texture is another matter. If the water is too abundant or boiling for too long, the carrots turn mushy. But if the water level is too low or the cooking time is too short, the carrots remain crunchy in spots.
It turns out that the solution is a dual cooking method. The carrots are first precooked at a relatively low temperature (in water between 120 and 160 degrees). We accomplish this by adding the carrots to simmering water, turning off the heat, and covering the pan for 20 minutes. This warm bath allows the carrots to withstand the second cooking—a gentle simmer that takes almost 50 minutes. Cooking carrots for over an hour on the stovetop might seem a bit crazy, but when you slice into these meaty carrots you will agree that this was time well spent.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
Precook for Persistent Firmness
Precooking certain fruits or vegetables at a low temperature can help them retain a firm yet tender texture during a second cooking phase at a higher temperature. This phenomenon is called “persistent firmness.” To initiate persistent firmness, we place carrots in a skillet filled with simmering water and let them steep off heat for 20 minutes. During this hot soak, an enzyme in the carrot called pectin methylesterase (PME) is activated. PME strengthens the pectin in the vegetable, making it resistant to breaking down when the carrots finish cooking at a higher temperature.
Water Is the Winner
When precooking the carrots, we use water because it allows the carrots to taste like carrots. We include a little butter for richness—it reduces to a light buttery glaze on the carrots as the water evaporates.
Pull Out the Parchment
After the 20-minute hot water bath, it’s time to remove the lid and cook off the water. But simply removing the lid can result in unevenly cooked carrots on top. A trick from restaurant chefs, called a cartouche, is the solution. This is simply a piece of parchment paper that sits directly on the food as it cooks, regulating the reduction of moisture in cooking. In short, the paper allows for the perfect rate of evaporation as it keeps the carrots submerged, trapping more of the escaping steam and keeping it concentrated on top of the carrots, which ensures perfectly tender, evenly cooked results. Once most of the liquid evaporates (note that this will take a good 45 minutes), remove the paper and shake the pan a few times as the rest of the water cooks off and the carrots take on a buttery sheen.
Simmering carrots under a circle of parchment ensures even cooking without mushiness.
Slow-Cooked Whole Carrots
SERVES 4 TO 6
- 10 minutes to peel carrots and cut parchment
- 5 minutes to bring water to a simmer
- 20 minutes to warm carrots off heat
- 50 minutes to cook carrots
- Parchment paper (to cover carrots and ensure even cooking)
- 12-inch skillet with lid
Substitutions & Variations
The carrots can be served with other chunky relishes or potent sauces, anything from salsa verde and romesco sauce to pesto.
Use carrots that measure ¾ to 1¼ inches across at the thickest end. The carrots can be served plain, but we recommend topping them with one of our relishes (recipes follow).
- 3 cups water
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 12 carrots (1½ to 1¾ pounds), peeled
- Fold 12-inch square of parchment paper into quarters to create 6-inch square. Fold bottom right corner of square to top left corner to create triangle. Fold triangle again, right side over left, to create narrow triangle. Cut off ¼ inch of tip of triangle to create small hole. Cut base of triangle straight across where it measures 5 inches from hole. Open paper round.
- Bring water, butter, and salt to simmer in 12-inch skillet over high heat. Remove pan from heat, add carrots in single layer, and place parchment round on top of carrots. Cover skillet and let stand for 20 minutes.
- Remove lid from skillet, leaving parchment round in place, and bring to simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until almost all water has evaporated and carrots are very tender, about 45 minutes. Discard parchment round, increase heat to medium-high, and continue to cook carrots, shaking pan frequently, until they are lightly glazed and no water remains in skillet, 2 to 4 minutes longer. Transfer carrots to platter and serve.
GREEN OLIVE AND GOLDEN RAISIN RELISH MAKES ABOUT 1 CUP
- ⅓ cup golden raisins
- 1 tablespoon water
- ⅔ cup pitted green olives, chopped
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon ground fennel
- ¼ teaspoon salt
Microwave raisins and water in bowl until steaming, about 1 minute. Cover and let stand until raisins are plump, about 5 minutes. Add olives, shallot, oil, vinegar, fennel, and salt to plumped raisins and stir to combine.
PINE NUT RELISH MAKES ABOUT ¾ CUP
Pine nuts burn easily, so be sure to shake the pan frequently while toasting them.
- ⅓ cup pine nuts, toasted
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon honey
- ½ teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Pinch cayenne pepper
Combine all ingredients in bowl.
America’s Test Kitchen 100 Recipes
The Absolute Best ways to Make The True Essentials
More from my site
Tags: america's test kitchen slow cooked carrots, baked whole carrots, pine nut relish, slow cooked whole carrots america's test kitchen, slow cooked whole carrots cooks illustrated, slow cooker roast with potatoes and carrots, slow roasted carrots, slow roasted potatoes and carrots, slow-cooked whole carrots