Glazed carrots have a slightly fusty, midcentury vibe about them, as though they’d feel right at home sitting on a table next to meatloaf and Jell-O salad with a Bing Crosby record playing in the background. But they’re hardly obsolete: Glazed carrots are fast, easy, healthful and minimalist. And in winter, when most fresh produce falls somewhere on the spectrum between whitish-green and brown, glazed carrots are a cheering antidote to monochrome dinners.
There is only one problem with glazed carrots as they’re most often made: They’re sickeningly sweet, almost as cloying as Crosby’s standards. I am not an anti-sugar crusader, and I’m certainly not opposed to the occasional teaspoon added to savory dishes to round out their flavors. But adding sugar (or honey or maple syrup, as the case may be) to carrots is mind-bogglingly wrong-headed, because carrots are already sweet. Adding more sugar takes them to a weird, nauseating no-man’s-land between dinner and dessert — vegetal in appearance and texture, candied in flavor, disconcerting all around. This is not to say carrots cannot appear in desserts — carrot cake is a topic for another day.
A much better addition to glazed carrots is sugar’s polar opposite: soy sauce. Soy sauce complements carrots’ sweetness instead of amplifying it, and the resulting sweet-and-salty mixture makes soy-glazed carrots exceptionally habit-forming. Add butter, which enriches the flavor of both and wards off that austere boiled-carrot texture, and you’re good to go.
Glazing is kind of like streamlined braising: Instead of browning the carrots in butter and then simmering them in liquid, you just throw all the ingredients together in a pot, cover it, and cook until the carrots are tender. Then, you remove the lid and let the remaining liquid boil down to a shiny glaze. The glaze in this recipe isn’t quite as syrupy as the glaze in a recipe containing sugar, but the carrots release enough starch as they cook to thicken the sauce — and the resulting dish is indisputably dinner, not dessert.
Soy- and Butter-Glazed Carrots
Yield: 4 servings; Time: 30 minutes
2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Put the carrots, soy sauce, butter, and 1/3 cup water in a small pot. Season with black pepper. Cover and put the pot over medium heat. Cook until the carrots are mostly tender, about 20 minutes. Uncover the pot and raise the heat to medium-high. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced to a glaze, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve hot.