Note: You may know Carolyn Cope as Umami Girl. She stops by on Tuesdays with ideas on preparing fruits and vegetables.
One of the first lessons you learn in culinary school is the unyielding power of mispronounced French words. Culinary French don't sound purdy, but it can inspire a vast range of emotion, from dread to desire, among the clog-wearing set.
Few words wield more fury than the unassuming-sounding tournage, the name for the meticulous cutting of vegetables out of hand into small, seven-faced footballs, often for hours at a stretch. If the ability to tourne carrots, turnips, and potatoes is not particularly relevant for the vast majority of professional chefs these days, schools don't see that as reason to cancel the plumage-fest that its teaching inevitably becomes.
You might not think this topic bears heavily on the home cook, but it does. Because of tournage, home cooks have been robbed blind of one of the simplest and most delicious methods of cooking winter's abundance of root vegetables. The classic French practice of glazing is quick and rewarding and produces a surprisingly elegant result (which bears little resemblance to the cloying dishes sometimes called glazed vegetables in the United States).
For whatever reasons to do with peacocks and machismo and what have you, the perfectly proper way to glaze root vegetables requires that you tourne them first. But chopping them into bite-sized pieces gets you 99 percent of the way to perfection with maybe one percent of the effort. I'm no Good Will Hunting, but that looks like 100 to me.
French glazed vegetables are cooked in a shallow bath of water fortified with small amounts of butter and sugar. One of the few tricks to glazing (and it's a trick home cooks should learn anyway, since it's widely applicable and cheap as hell) is to cover the cooking vegetables with a cartouche, a circle of parchment paper with a hole cut out of the middle. This method makes the cooking liquid evaporate slowly, giving the vegetables time to cook through gently and leaving you with just the right amount of glaze. Unlike tournage, cartouche is the kind of poorly pronounced culinary French that you'll want to keep in your vocabulary.
This week I've glazed carrots because that's what we had in our crisper, but this method works beautifully with just about all root vegetables, from turnips to parsnips to beets to pearl onions. If you're combining vegetables into one dish, classic technique would have you cook each separately to ensure perfect tenderness, but if you cut them all about the same size, it's perfectly reasonable (I'd say a lot more so, in fact) to cook them all together. Just be sure not to crowd the pan beyond a single layer, or the veggies won't brown properly.
Almost-French Glazed Root Vegetables
- 5 medium carrots peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (or other root vegetables, to yield about 2 cups)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup water
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and/or chives, for garnish
Prepare a cartouche by cutting a circle of parchment the size of your sauté pan with a circular hole in the center. This is a good tutorial, except that you should snip off the pointy end of the triangle to make a hole in the center for steam to escape. (If this sounds like poorly pronounced French to you right now, it will make more sense after watching the short video.)
Melt the butter in a medium, heavy-bottomed sauté pan (preferably not non-stick) over medium-high heat. Add the carrots and toss to coat with butter. Sprinkle with the sugar and some salt and pepper. Pour in water to go about halfway up the carrots, not more than 1/2 cup. Cover with the cartouche and adjust the heat to maintain a brisk simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the carrots are just tender on the outside and still a bit too firm in the center.
Remove the cartouche, return the heat to medium-high, and cook the carrots uncovered, shaking the pan occasionally, until they brown in spots and the liquid is reduced to just enough glaze to coat the carrots, about 5 minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley or chives (or other herbs of your choice) and serve.