Carrots are one of my favourite vegetables – growing up we grew them in the garden, so carrots were always freshly pulled and cooked. I’d go out and pull up as many carrots as we wanted, then mum’d cook them. Those home grown carrots were the best tasting carrots in the world to me.
These days I don’t grow my own vegetables – no excuses except I’m simply not interested. Yes, I “could” dig up some of the garden and sow a row of carrots. Yes, I “could” use containers to grow carrots. All nice and easy … but, quite simply, I’m not interested.
However, I DO know how to cook carrots 🙂
Carrots are a root vegetable and can be very hard. Smaller carrots are sweeter than larger ones – and early crops are much sweeter than late crops. Most shops sell large carrots, home growers will be more used to tiny and mis-shapen carrots. If you want to know how to cook home grown carrots that are tiny, probably the best way is to toss them into a shallow saucepan, cover with water and chuck in a teaspoon of white sugar and/or a couple of mint leaves. Job done.
If you’ve bought a bag of carrots from the shop these are more likely to be harder, larger and not as sweet as the home-grown carrots. These will actually need cooking for a LONG time to make them really nice. Do you remember the jokes about people over-cooking vegetables by boiling them forever? That’s how you have to treat carrots. So here it is:
How to cook carrots you bought from the shop in a bag.
- You do not need to peel your carrots – if they’re a bit grubby looking then give them a wash with your hands rubbing at the skin.
- Top/tail the carrots – this means simply slicing off the very top piece (where the stalk attaches) and possibly any trailing “beardy bits” at the pointy end.
- Place the carrots in a saucepan that’s large enough for the carrots to lay down – that might even be a frying pan rather than a saucepan.
- Pour boiling water from the kettle into your pan, or you could have put cold water into the empty pan at the start, before you started washing the carrots, it should be boiling by the time you’ve finished.
- Add a pinch of salt to the pan, a teaspoon of sugar and a knob of butter.
- Bring the carrots to the boil, turn the heat down so they’re just simmering and cover the pan with a lid.
- Simmer for a full 30 minutes, before draining and serving.
And that’s it – carrots DO take a long time to cook, which is why I’ll more often use frozen carrots and steam them 🙂
Using a Steamer to Cook Carrots
We converted to using a steamer to cook all our Christmas veg about 10-15 years ago. It simply made sense to have one gadget cooking all the veg, without taking up any of the stove top and without generating lots of steam.
When you use a steamer for different veggies always put the harder vegetables at the bottom (that’s the carrots, swede, parsnip) and put the softer vegetables on top: e.g. cauliflower in the middle layer and broccoli on the very top. The time it takes to steam carrots in a steamer depends on the size/quantity of the carrots and whether they’re being steamed alone or with the steamer full of veggies. For a FULL steamer of veggies, think 25-30 minutes. To just steam enough carrots for 1-2 people, this would take 8-10 minutes depending on the shape/size of them (whole carrots take longer than if you’ve sliced them).
Steaming carrot ribbons is even speedier, I’d try 5-6 minutes for those as they’re thin.
There is an amount of time, in a steamer, that’s required for the water to get up to temperature and start producing steam.
The quantity being cooked affects the cooking time enormously though, so it’s hard to give a specific time without a specific weight/size of carrots!
I cook a carrot or two in the microwave these days, just 4-5 minutes and they’re done: Microwave Carrots.
Carrots with a Twist
At times you might want to do something a bit different with carrots – we had a few years where my sister served us with carrots cooked in orange juice at Christmas.
Another way to cook and serve carrots is to oven-bake them with a honey glaze – I see Honey Glazed Carrots as being best served for a Christmas dinner side dish, rather than as a regular cooking method. Here’s the recipe for that, this cuts down the cooking time by pre-cooking them a little first (which you can even do the day before if you’re trying to prepare ahead of a big meal):
Honey Glazed Carrots in the Oven
- Prepare your carrots and cook them as above, but only for 10-15 minutes (not the full 30 minutes).
- Strain off the water and add a knob of butter and a good squirt of honey to the saucepan and use a fork to move the carrots about until they’re coated in the glaze.
- Tip the glazed carrots into a greased oven-proof dish and bake in the oven, uncovered, at 190°C for 25-30 minutes. Poke the carrots with the pointy end of a knife to check they’re done. To speed them up you can even cut the carrots into bite sized chunks and reduce the oven baking time to 15-20 minutes or so.
For a visual twist, you can also think about if, and how, you’ll cut your carrots, here are the basic options:
- Leave them whole, as they are – this works especially well for smaller, or medium-sized carrots.
- Slice them lengthways into 2-3 long pieces.
- Cut them into simple rounds.
- Cut them lengthways into quarters by cutting them first in half lengthways, then cutting each half in half again lengthways. This works well for roasting carrots.
- Cut them “on the slant”.
We used to squabble a little at Christmas-time as my sister wanted them one shape and I wanted them another! Sometimes cutting them in 2-3 different ways will keep everybody happy!
Carrots are best cooked long and slow – but remember that the size of the carrots and the quantity you’re cooking will affect how long your carrots actually take on the day!