When you have the time to spare, sure, you can wrap your beets in foil and roast them. It’s a mostly mindless method that will yield pretty good results. But truthfully, that method can take forever, and toward the end of cooking you’ll have to unwrap and wrap the beets to check doneness — each time piercing the beets with a paring knife, while the juice spills out. It’s an advertised no-mess method that ends up getting a little dirty.
I have a much better and faster way to cook beets — and if you're on the fence about them in general, it may even nudge you back into the beet.
It’s a technique I learned in the kitchen at Farmstead, an excellent (real-deal) farm-to-table restaurant in Napa Valley. It’s one of my all-time favorite tricks. Poach beets in an aromatic and vinegar-spiked liquid. Throw in garlic and whatever herbs and spices you want. Simmer the beets until they are tender.
The beets will peel like a dream, and the beet’s flavor will improve with that time spent with the vinegar and aromatics — perfectly balanced before you even add a touch of citrus, vinaigrette, or goat cheese.
How To Make a Perfect Poaching Liquid for Beets
Use 4 parts water to 1 part vinegar, and play with this recipe as you wish. Try adding any warm spices and aromatics, like star anise, nutmeg, peppercorns, a knob of ginger, or fennel stalks. Increase the liquid as needed to cover the beets by half of an inch.
My usual blend: Mix 4 cups water with 1 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 medium garlic clove, halved, and 1 bay leaf. Add 1 to 1 1/2 pounds beets, not peeled, stems trimmed.
Bring the beets to a steady simmer in a medium saucepan and cook, partially covered, until they are tender, 35 to 50 minutes. Remove the beets from the poaching liquid and let them cool long enough to handle. Peel the beets and dice them or cut them into wedges.
Alternatively, if you want a caramelized taste and texture, you can cook beets this way until just tender, then peel, dice, and roast the beets at 450°F until lightly browned and tender.