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There aren’t many recipes out there that advocate serving boiled carrots on the side. When it comes to glamour, carrots are at the bottom of the pile, jostling with frozen peas for last place. We’re just so used to them, and pushed towards more fashionable alternatives, like magnificently-hued beetroots, winter squash, kale, and purple sprouting broccoli. Plus, who would click on a recipe with "boiled" in the title before "charred," "burnt," "pickled," "deep-fried," "ribboned"?
Yet boiled carrots are actually a brilliant accompaniment to many things—their natural sweetness cuts through fatty pork, lifts plain chicken, suits white fish just as well as it does richer beef and venison. The hit of orange adds interest and life to a plate of otherwise brown and occasionally green food. The soft bite of a carrot provides an appealing contrast to soft purées, unctuous meats, and flaky fish.
That said, while carrots are fine served plain, they’re much better with a twist.
Flaky sea and freshly ground black pepper are essential, and salts spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, caraway, and cumin allow carrots to flip between different cuisines. A knob of butter melting over the top is good, even better if it’s browned and foaming. Alternatively, a glug of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon immediately change boiled carrots from plain to luxurious. They like a dusting of freshly chopped green herbs—parsley, chervil, tarragon, chives—and a sprinkle of toasted nuts or seeds ensures each mouthful is a new experience. Adding a twist to carrots takes almost no effort, and shouldn’t add any extra time to the overall cooking process; the minimal preparation required for a final flourish can be done while the carrots bubble away.
This recipe, for carrots with brown butter and hazelnuts, transforms a side of perfectly decent but probably forgettable boiled carrots from support act to an award-winning lead. The twin nuttiness of brown butter and toasted hazelnuts, grassy parsley, and a squeeze of sharp lemon juice is all it takes to compliment a flank steak or pork chop or insert-main-here into to the best meal of your week.