Making Great Carrots

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This is my first (and certainly not last) post about my attempts to get over being a lifelong picky eater. See “Why I Cook” for the background, if you’re curious. Today’s topic: carrots.

What’s wrong with carrots?

The thing about carrots is that they’re aggressively crunchy. Sort of. Kind of soft, but also definitely not. It’s a weird combination that I don’t appreciate. The flavor is whatever, but the texture has always been enough of a turn off that I find the taste irrelevant. Even after chewing for a bit, they still have a soft-but-crunchy-but-crispy-but-mushy texture that’s just strange. Just pick one and stick with it.

That’s a joke. Because carrots are shaped like a stick.

…get it?

So for most of my life, I wouldn’t eat carrots. As a picky child, I basically avoided them like the plague. In fact, I think the first time I willingly ate one was in my mid 20s.

I didn’t really develop a taste for them until I discovered Thai stir fries, many of which come with thin carrot rounds cooked so that they have a consistently soft texture. At some point I was introduced to oven roasted carrots as well (thin sliced, of course). Pro tip: you can avoid the weird mushy interior problem by only eating carrots so thin that there is no interior.

After a while, I learned to appreciate the flavor (when prepared properly). I’m still not eating them raw, but I do genuinely enjoy nicely cooked carrots.

On that note, today’s post is about my favorite carrot dish – a hash. Or a stir fry. Or whatever. I’m not really sure what to call it, so I’m sticking with hash.

making of the hash

How did this dish actually get you to like carrots?

This dish helped me for a couple reasons:

  1. Taste. Very few things taste bad when doused in a good oil, salt, and pepper, so this is a great recipe to use when experimenting with new ingredients. Taking something you like and adding small amounts of something you don’t will help build your tolerance to the new flavor. You want the new thing to be mostly (but not completely) overpowered by the rest of the dish, so that you can focus on what you enjoy.
  2. Texture. When you cook a thick carrot wedge, it’s way too easy to only really cook the outside. This means the inside retains the strange mouthfeel that carrots have when raw. If you slice them thin, the heat from the pan will more easily cook the inside because there isn’t much of an inside to begin with. You just end up with the nice, crispy outside and that’s it. This definitely applies to carrots, but is a useful trick for most foods with an unappealing texture.

What works for me might not work for you, but I recommend at least trying it a couple times. Start slowly – add only a tiny amount of the new thing at first, then slowly increase the amount over time. If you still hate it after a couple tries, that’s OK. Table the carrots for now and move onto something else until you want to try it again.

So how do I cook the hash?

It’s pretty simple. Put a couple ingredients in a pan with way too much an appropriate amount of oil, salt, and pepper, cook until crispy, and you’re good to go. I like to make it with potatoes, carrots, chicken, and mixed greens, but you can experiment. Mushrooms go great with it (and are a recent addition to my eating repertoire), as do green beans. Three of our four 8×4’ garden boxes this year are dedicated exclusively to potatoes, carrots, and green beans, mostly so that I can binge eat this dish during the harvest season.

The one thing that’s tricky with this dish is the pan-frying technique. It’s easy once you get the hang of it, and it’s also easy to end up with a burnt mess if you’re not paying attention. I think the most important thing is to make sure you use the right fry pan. There are a couple options – some are definitely better than others. See my Picking the Right Fry Pans post for more thoughts on the subject, but the short version is that De Buyer’s carbon steel fry pans are “da bomb”.

Anyway – it’s a quick, easy, and healthy hash that works for any meal of the day. Give it a shot and leave a comment with your thoughts.


Recipe: Potato + Carrot + Whatever’s-In-Your-Pantry Hash

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Serves: 1-2 people

One disclaimer about this recipe: I like to use potatoes, carrots, chicken, and greens, but really you can do whatever you want. Hate carrots? No worries, leave them out. Love mushrooms? Go for it. Vegan or vegetarian? Skip the chicken.

Point being: have fun with it 🙂

Ingredients

  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 potato (preferably red or yukon gold, but any kind works)
  • 1 carrot
  • ¼ lbs boneless chicken (thighs, breast, whatever – doesn’t matter)
  • 2-3 big kale leaves and a small handful of arugula
  • salt and pepper to taste (I like salty and spicy hash, so my goal is to make sure that everything is well covered – but remember that it’s easier to add more than take it back)

Instructions

  1. Cut the potato, carrot, and chicken into thin slices. We’re going to pan fry them, and thick chunks will burn on the outside before they cook inside.
  2. Rip the greens into bite-size chunks.
  3. Add olive oil to your pan then turn it on high until the oil smokes. As the pan heats up, spread the oil around so that the entire bottom is covered. One way to test if you’re ready to cook is to wet your hands then flick some water at the pan. If it pops and crackles, you’re good to go. If it’s quiet or slowly sizzles, give it a little longer.
  4. Once the pan is hot, add your potatoes and spread them out. Try to make sure that they’re all in contact with the bottom of the pan, rather than resting on top of each other. I like to shake the pan back and forth as I’m doing this to make sure they don’t stick.
  5. Give the potatoes a minute to start browning up, then add your carrots and chicken. Scientifically speaking, you want the maillard reaction to kick in. In layman’s terms, browned potatoes = good potatoes.
  6. Turn the temperature down to medium heat and let it all cook for a bit, mixing every couple minutes. You want to make sure that nothing sticks to the pan, and also that each piece of food is cooked all around. I find that a good metal spatula makes this an easy task, combined with shaking the pan to let things naturally spread out. I also usually find myself lowering the temperature as I go. Over time, your food will absorb the oil which removes the grease that keeps everything from sticking. A lower temperature will help you avoid burning everything in the process.
  7. Once everything looks cooked, add your greens with just a little more oil, stir it around for about 30 seconds, and serve. The easiest way to tell if it’s done is to eat a potato slice and see how it tastes (after blowing on it to cool it down) You can cook the greens longer (or not at all) based on your preference. I like them to be softer, but not super wilted.

Writing it all out made me realize this recipe sounds more complicated than it is. If you’re pretty comfortable in the kitchen already, here’s the simple version:

  1. Chop your veggies and meat into thin slices.
  2. Heat the pan until it’s hot. Add however much oil you think you need, then double it.
  3. Add everything but the greens. Cook everything evenly, reducing the temperature slowly as you go.
  4. Once it looks done, add your greens for a minute and serve.

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