How to steam carrots without cooking them to death

No steamer basket necessary!

Published June 1, 2022 5:59PM (EDT)

 (Julia Gartland / Food52)
(Julia Gartland / Food52)

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One of the easiest side dishes to make is steamed vegetables — like carrots — but they're also one of the easiest to screw up. One second the vegetables are practically raw and the next they're an overcooked mess that may as well turn into a mash. So what's the best way to steam carrots so that they're actually appealing?

How to steam carrots (no steamer basket necessary)

First, are you steaming baby carrots or large carrots? Will they be cooked whole, halved, or in smaller rounds? All of this will impact exactly how long to cook carrots for.

For an even more basic way to steam carrots, do this: Fill a large pan with an inch of water (use a deep skillet for large carrots or a medium-sized saucepan for baby carrots or carrot rounds). Bring the water to a boil, then add the carrots and salt, cover, and reduce the heat to medium. Cook the carrots for eight minutes, or until a fork can gently pierce them. Toss them with unsalted butterbrown sugar (or maple syrup or honey), salt and pepper for an easy side dish.

How to steam carrots in the microwave

All you need to make magic happen (aka speedy steamed carrots) is a microwave-safe bowl and microwave-safe lid (like our Five Two Airtight Silicone Lids or wrap. Add sliced carrot rounds to a glass bowl and add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water. Cook on high in the microwave for five minutes then immediately (carefully!) take out the bowl and tightly wrap a piece of plastic wrap over the top and let the carrots steam for another 2 to 3 minutes.

Carrot recipes

For argument's sake, let's look at this recipe for our Buttery Maple and Cumin Carrots, which calls for 1 pound of carrots, cut into batons about 1/2-inch thick. Add the carrots to a frying pan and sauté in butter and oil for three minutes; drizzle with maple syrup and keep cooking for another three to five or so minutes until caramelized. All in all, we're looking at a total of six to eight minutes to cook 1/2-inch thick glazed carrots. These aren't steamed using liquid, but rather with just a tiny bit of liquid from the syrup and naturally forming condensation.

In Dr. Jessica B. Harris's recipe for Carrots With Ginger, she calls for 1 bunch of carrots cut into 1/2-inch rounds. Place the carrots in a medium-sized saucepan with a large piece of peeled, minced ginger and just ½ cup of orange juice. Cover and cook over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, until the carrots are fork-tender. Drain the carrots, reserving the cooking liquid, and season them to taste.

This recipe calls for more liquid and a slightly longer cook time. The recipe for Carrots With Ginger follows a more traditional steaming process compared to Buttery Maple and Cumin Carrots, which uses a sauté-steam combo. Let's average the two together and say that carrots should be steamed for 8 to 10 minutes and not a minute more. Capeesh?

By Kelly Vaughan

MORE FROM Kelly Vaughan

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Carrots Food Food52 How-to Recipe Side Dishes