Published March 1, 2013.
Our simple method saves time, intensifies flavor, and even yields a beet-enriched sauce.
Roasting beets concentrates their flavor but can take more than 90 minutes—way too long for a weeknight side dish. Boiling might shave off time, but one taste of the earthy, sweet crimson cooking liquid proves that this convenience exacts its own toll.
We wanted a more streamlined approach to bringing out the best in beets.
We tried halving the raw beets before placing them in a large saucepan with about a quart of water to cover (turning a blind eye to any consequential flavor loss for now). This small investment in prep work cost less than a minute but shaved 10 to 15 minutes off the hour of cooking time typically required for whole beets. As an added benefit, the cooked beet halves cooled to handling temperature more quickly than whole beets and shed their peels just as easily under the pressure of my thumb and the gentle friction of a paper towel.
Then we had to face the flavor lost to all that cooking water. We reduced it to about a tablespoon and used it to build a dressing for the beets. Unfortunately, reducing a quart of water took upwards of 25 minutes. We decided to cook the beets in less liquid to begin with and switched from boiling to braising, relying on a small amount of water in a tightly covered pot. The beets finished cooking in the same time period and were just as tender, but now the leftover braising liquid reduced in just 5 minutes flat.
To play up the earthy texture, we added a tablespoon of light brown sugar and 3 tablespoons of vinegar to the beet reduction. Just 1 more minute of cooking gave the resultant sweet-and-sour sauce enough body to coat the peeled wedges. Thin slices of shallot underscored the savory depth, while toasted nuts, aromatic citrus zest, and fresh herbs added just enough contrast without overshadowing the robust beet flavor we had worked so hard to preserve.list of recipes