Sautéed carrots with butter and thyme are an easy and delicious vegetable side dish. There is no need for added sugar: thinly sliced carrots beautifully caramelize while cooking in butter. These butter sauteed carrots burst with a sweet and nutty flavour. This is the carrot side dish that may turn carrot haters into lifetime fans.
Roasting is largely considered the best way to bring out flavour from vegetables while also keeping it healthy. To nail the perfect roast the secret is a little amount of fat (like olive oil) rubbed into the vegetables. The high heat together with the fat creates some beatiful caramelization. That is what makes roasted food awesome both in terms of flavour and texture.
You can achieve the same effect also in a skillet. As long as you can keep the same factors at play: a little fat and high heat. Sautéeing carrots in a little butter is my favourite way to prepare these vegetables. To me, skillet carrots are even better than oven-roasted ones. Together with the butter the carrots caramelize in such a beautiful way that brings out all their natural sweetness without the need for added sugar.
The perfect carrot side dish
Whenever I’m unsatisfied with sautéed carrots at restaurants it’s always for 2 reasons: the carrots are too thick and not caramelized enough. And by caramelized I mean properly browned. Too often the texture is that of steamed or boiled carrots, made a little more interesting by the addition of a condiment.
In order to achieve the level of caramelization I like in my carrots I follow two rules that always make this recipe turn out perfect:
- Thin slices, and I mean very thin – 1 mm. This ensures maximum browning surface while the core will always cook through without the need to pre-steam the carrots.
- Sauté in butter is the other key element. While cooking oils with higher smoke point are generally recommended for sautéing, nothing beats butter with carrots. Just like the carrots, even the milk solids in butter will caramelize, adding layers of flavour to the final product.
A common way to prepare carrots as side dish is glazing them by adding sugar. While this sure caramelizes adding to the final flavour, I’d rather skip the added sugar. I am already guilty of eating too many sweets that I prefer to keep my savoury dishes free from it. Controlled high heat and browned butter like in these butter sautéed carrots can bring out all their natural sweetness without added sugar.
How to make butter sautéed carrots
Butter sautéed carrots are very easy to make and the whole dish comes together in 30 minutes. All you need is just a handful of ingredients:
- Thyme (dried or fresh)
- Turmeric powder
If you don’t have any turmeric at hand you can skip it. We are adding quite a small amount and mostly for its healthy properties. Such a small quantity does not affect the flavour of the dish, but it’s a good way to implement it in your diet if you don’t normally eat curries or other dishes that use turmeric. It also helps to enhance the beautiful orange of the carrots.
- Peel and thinly slice the carrots. We are going for very thin slices – 1 mm max. To achieve perfect slices I recommend the use of a mandoline or a food processor. But you can also put your knife skills to the test, as long as you stick with very thin slices and you manage to cut them all the same thickess.
- Set the skillet on medium-high heat and melt 40 g (3 tbsp) of butter. When melted, add the carrots. Cook them for a couple of minutes moving them around the pan to evenly distribute the heat and steam around.
- After about 5 minutes, add the thyme, turmeric and salt and keep stirring. Salt will start drawing moisture from the carrots so they will start softening at this point. Stir in the rest of the butter.
- Keep cooking the carrots on a rather high heat for another 15 minutes always moving them around. Continuous stirring distributes the heat, lets steam escape and ensures that all the foods have had a chance to come into direct contact with the pan.
- After a total of 20 minutes the carrots should have softened enough to properly have cooked through. The butter should have helped to create a lovely caramelization. Carrots that have been in direct contact with the pan for longer will display nicely browned edges. I kept a medium-high heat throughout the preparation, as heat is key. On my induction stove I’ve been switching between 7 and 8, lowering when the carrots were browning too fast.
Sautéed or pan-fried carrots?
Sautéing and pan-frying are rather simple techniques that both involve the use of a skillet. Actually, sautéing should require a sauté pan, but if you don’t have one a regular skillet will do. As long as it has a large bottom that grants good distribution of the heat and straight sides that do not trap the smoke inside but let it escape. Sautéing calls for less fat than frying – even shallow-frying requires the whole bottom of the pan being covered in the cooking fat.
When pan-frying you will be letting your food cook undisturbed for some minutes, moving it mostly just to turn sides. Sautéing implies constantly moving the food around. Ideally you would be tossing it around by moving the pan, but my cast iron skillet is too heavy for my wrists to accomplish that. Sliding a cooking spatula under the carrots to turn them is a great option, in this case.
Sautéed carrots with halloumi
These butter sautéed carrots are a delicious side dish. Pair them with a nice meat main like my hazelnut pork roast or these prosciutto chicken involtini. While very flavourful on their own, these carrots are never overwhelming and serve as a great side dish. But they’re great with vegetarian mains, too.
I love them so much I actually even eat them as a main. May throw in some protein on the side of the carrots, actually. Given the sweet quality of butter sautéed carrots, my favourite accompaniment is grilled halloumi. It’s a match made in heaven. Sautéed carrots with grilled halloumi is a simple and healthy lunch ready in 30 minutes! Just grill your halloumi slices on a griddle as you sauté the carrots. I recommend to serve it not piping hot but slightly cooled, with a glass of barrel aged Chardonnay. And some fresh thyme on top so that is the first smell that catches your nose.
Do you like carrots? What is your favourite way to enjoy them? Well I sure hope that after trying my recipe your favourite will be sautéed with butter and thyme! let me know in the comments if you liked this recipe and if you don’t have all the ingredients needed to make it soon, pin it for later.
Butter sautéed carrots
Thinly sliced carrots sauteed in butter with a dash of thyme and turmeric. A delicious side dish where the natural sweetness of the carrots is naturally coming through without the need to glaze them in added sugar.
- 600 g carrots
- 70 g butter
- 1/2 tsp thyme dried
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder optional
- 1/3 tsp salt
Peel and thinly slice the carrots to 1 mm thick. I have used my food processor for even slices.
Set the skillet on medium-high heat and melt 40 g (3 tbsp) of butter. When melted, add the carrots. Cook for 5 of minutes moving them around the pan to evenly distribute the heat and steam around.
Add the thyme, turmeric and salt and stir in. Add the rest of the butter.
Keep cooking the carrots on a rather high heat for another 15 minutes always moving them around.
After a total of 20 minutes the carrots should have softened enough to properly have cooked through. They should display a nice caramelization and some should have nicely browned edges. Garnish with fresh thyme (if desired) and serve.
I kept a medium-high heat throughout the preparation, as heat is key when sautéing. On my induction stove I've been switching between 7 and 8, lowering when the carrots were browning too fast and then increasing again from time to time.