Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Carrots on the side.

Carrots, front and center. © Ryan Schierling
You want to blow someone's mind? Serve them some cooked carrots that don't taste like those bland square nodules found in frozen peas and carrot mixes. There's a good reason people don't often serve carrots as a side dish, and when they do, they're usually sweetly glazed. 

In contrast, I recently stumbled smack into a savory method for cooking carrots that has been astonishingly well received. In fact, it has actually been getting requests from carnivores, no less! Talk about surreal. 

Here's how it happened. I decided a small dinner gathering was in order for Ryan's recent half-birthday. Since he doesn't have steak very often when it's just the two of us, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to serve a hearty "steak and potato" dinner. The beef was served with a wine reduction, garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus with Gruyere. I am not a very good meat eater, so I thought it might be nice to make another simple little veggie dish so I would have at least three colors on my plate. 

Despite the fact I haven't made a side dish out of carrots in years, I honesty didn't think about this one too much, not even a cursory internet search. We had a few carrots in the crisper and I've been enamored with the fresh Mexican Mint Marigold that is thriving in our herb garden. (This herb is similar in flavor to Tarragon, but hardier and suited for growing in a hot climate.) I didn't need additional inspiration, I just made it. Between you and me, even up to the point I was about to serve these carrots, I didn't really expect anyone else to be interested in them, much less ask for seconds. 

So here it is – a recipe for cooked carrots that might just surprise you as much as it does your guests. 

Carrots "Tarragon" 

Fresh carrots - large, peeled, and sliced at least 1/4" thick on the diagonal
Mexican mint marigold (or French tarragon) - about a teaspoon of chopped fresh leaves for every 3 carrots
Butter - a pat for every 3-5 carrots, or to taste
Chicken stock - one with a good concentrated flavor (Better-than-Bullion works well)
Kosher Salt - to taste 

Use a lidded saucepan that fits the quantity of carrots you are cooking (the smaller the surface area of the bottom of the pan, the better). Add enough stock to cover the bottom of the pan, about 1/4", and bring to a simmer. Add the carrots, butter and fresh tarragon, give a quick turn in the liquid and cover. 

The idea now is to steam and baste the carrots on low heat in the minimum amount of liquid necessary. The stock should just simmer at the bottom of the pan. The juices that the carrots release can be basted right back on to them as you turn them occasionally. When they are fork tender, you should just have a little bit of liquid left in the pan. Toss one last time, add salt to taste and serve. 

(You should estimate approximately 1 carrot per person served).

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