Roasting deepens carrots’ earthy sweetness like no other cooking method, but the process monopolizes your oven for at least 45 minutes. I wanted great roasted carrots—with streaks of char, a tender bite, and a concentrated flavor—in less time and on the stove.
To soften them quickly, I needed to steam the carrots first. I selected 1 1/2 pounds of large carrots from the bulk bin, since their thickness would translate into more cut surfaces for browning than skinnier bagged carrots. I cut them crosswise and then lengthwise into even pieces. When I placed the carrots in a nonstick skillet with 1/2 cup of water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and a tablespoon of oil, they didn’t fit in a single layer, but steaming fixed that: After about 8 minutes of covered cooking, the carrots had shrunk enough that, with a shake of the skillet, they settled into an even layer.
Most of the water evaporated during that time, too, but to cook off more moisture and create as much deep browning and char as I could, I kept the heat on medium-high and let the carrots cook undisturbed for about 3 minutes. I then flipped the pieces so their pale sides were on the bottom and cooked them for a couple minutes more. This method was speedy—less than 15 minutes—but while the carrots were browned, no one would mistake them for oven-roasted.
I had two fixes: First, I increased the oil to 2 tablespoons, since fat facilitates the transfer of energy between the cooking surface and the food and would allow the sugars in the carrots to caramelize fully. Second, while the first side of the carrots seared, I pressed them against the skillet with my spatula for maximum contact with the pan.
The finished carrots were richly browned, with concentrated sweet-savory flavor. If I hadn’t made them myself, I would have sworn these carrots had been roasted in the oven.