Sautéed carrots are perfect if you're looking for a great vegetable side that's easy to make, healthy, and delicious. Not to mention fairly inexpensive, since carrots aren't really the priciest vegetables!
One of the things that makes sautéed carrots so great is the caramelization. When you cook carrots over a fairly high heat, they start to brown, enhancing their natural sweetness and giving them a much richer flavor.
And they're also healthy – sautéing is a cooking method that preserves a lot of the carrots' nutrients, so that each bite is even better for you!
When you're making sautéed carrots, there are a few things you need to do to get the carrots ready. Nothing complicated, but you do need to keep a few things in mind to get the best possible results.
Wash The Carrots
Before eating and cooking with carrots, you should always wash them. It helps get rid of any dirt, chemicals or microorganisms that might still be on the surface. Just scrub the carrots under lukewarm running water until you get rid of all the dirt.
Once the carrots are washed, you need to dry them. Sautéing is a dry heat cooking method. If the carrots are still wet, you could end up steaming the carrots instead of sautéing them. Not that there's anything wrong with steamed carrots! It just won't be the caramelized dish you were looking for.
Peel The Carrots (optional)
If you want, you can also peel the carrots after washing them. Usually it's better not to, though, since so much of the carrots' flavor and nutrients are near the surface. Washing is usually enough to give you a nice, fresh looking carrot.
But if you want to peel them, be sure to use a vegetable peeler – it'll only peel off a thin layer, so that you don't lose as much. Peel a single layer off the carrot, and you're ready!
Cut The Carrots
How you cut the carrots is the most important preparation step. Since sautéed carrots are cooked quickly over high heat, you have to be sure that your carrot pieces aren't so big that they'll burn before they cook through.
Here's what you need to keep in mind.
Cut the carrots in pieces no more than a quarter of an inch thick. The easiest way to do this is to cut them in slices.
Cutting the slices diagonally is even better. You get more surface area, for more caramelization. And it just looks great!
There are other ways you can cut the carrots, too. You can julienne them (cut them into little sticks), or cut the carrots in half lengthwise and then into pieces, but diagonal slices are easy to make and look great.
Cut the carrots into even sized pieces. If you're cutting them in slices, make sure the slices are uniformly thick. That way, all the carrots will be done at the same time, without any being overcooked or undercooked.
Thinner pieces cook faster. If you want them to brown more, cook them over higher heat. Thicker pieces may need to cook over lower heat to cook through before the outside burns.
Let Them Warm
Before you sauté the carrots, it's a good idea to let your carrots reach room temperature. That way, when you add them to the hot pan, they won't cool it down. And that's important because the high heat is necessary to get that wonderful caramelization.
Once your carrots are prepared, it's time to sauté them. And here's what you need to do to make sautéed carrots.
Heat some oil in a pan over medium high heat. If you prefer to use butter, you can mix butter and oil, or use clarified butter. Plain butter on its own might burn over the high heat.
Pick a pan large enough to hold all your carrots without crowding them. They'll release steam as they cook, and if they're too crowded the steam will prevent them from browning.
Add the carrots to the pan.
Cook the carrots, uncovered, being sure to keep them moving. They need to move more the longer they cook to keep them from burning.
You can either stir them quickly with a wooden spoon, or jerk the pan back and forth to make the carrots jump. If you choose the latter, make sure your pan is light enough for you to handle easily.
It's important to keep the carrots uncovered, so that the steam can escape and the carrots can brown.
If the carrots look like they're browning too fast and the inside isn't cooked yet, you can turn down the heat, or shake the pan a bit more – the movement will help cool down the vegetables and the pan.
The carrots are done when they're cooked through and browned to your liking.
Taste a piece every so often to see if it's done. When it tastes right to you, that means it's good.
You can dress up this simple dish in lots of different ways.
Sautéing a bit of garlic or onions with the carrots can add a lot of flavor.
You can also add some fresh or dried herbs or spices. You can add these when the carrots are already partially cooked, so that they don't burn. Try salt, pepper, dill, nutmeg, cardamom, or any other spice you like. Don't be afraid to try new combinations. They won't all work out, but you might discover something amazing!
Try adding a bit of grated cheese, or dried fruit or slivered nuts to the carrots when they're almost done – that way they don't burn. It'll add visual appeal and taste great!
Some people like to parboil or blanch the carrots before sautéing them in butter and herbs. That means boiling them in a bit of water so that they're pre-cooked. The trouble with that is that boiling gets the vegetables wet, and so they don't really caramelize. It's really more of a way to enhance boiled vegetables than to sauté them.
And that's how to make sautéed carrots. Go ahead and give it a try. You'll find it's really easy and super tasty!