Beet It

The Den

    Hi. I'm Alton Brown. And today on Good Eats, we're cooking beets! [the "TV" changes channel]

Godzilla Movie

    [Godzilla is tearing through a city, stops, the actor takes off the costume's head, it's AB] Look, I know beets can be a little bit scary, okay? Especially if you were raised on canned ones, the way I was, but trust me ... [the TV changes channel again]

Car Sales Commercial

GUEST: Used Car Salesman

USED CAR SALESMAN: But trust me on this folks. Our prices have never been this low, and never will be again. Why, take this sporty 1998 coupe-ay. It comes fully loaded. It comes with everything you could ...

AB: [steps out of one of the cars and climbs up the ladder to face the camera] Excuse me, just a second. Just a second.

    Come on, you've at least gotta hear me out on this. Beets are ...

AB: [to UCS] Just a second. Just a second.

... beets are sweet, they're earthy, they're versatile, and they're as good for you as ...

Hispanic Novella [Soap Opera]

GUESTS: Renaldo

W: Aguanta me, Renaldo.
AB: Hi. Uh, dispulé [sic]. Look, the thing about beets ...
R: ¿Quién es usted?
AB: Umm, ¿Dónde está la estación de tren?
W: ¡Yo no puedo trabajar así! [exits]
AB: Look, I ...
R: ¿Quién es usted? ¡Pronto sera despedido!
AB: ¿Cuánto es el sombrero?
R: ¡Imbécil!


 W: Hold me, Renaldo.
AB: Hi. Uh, dispulé [sic]. Look, the thing about beets ...
R: Who are you?
AB: Umm, Where is the train station?

W: I cannot work like this! [exits]
AB: Look, I ...
R: Who are you? Get lost, quick!

AB: How much is the hat?
R: Imbecile!

    Look, you got me feeling like Sam I Am here, okay? Just give beets a chance would you? I won't make you eat 'em in a box or with a fox. I won't make you make you eat any borscht, or any diet eggs or anything. Just nice, straightforward good eats. Now, come one, let's go back to my channel, okay?

Harry's Farmers Market: Atlanta, GA - 10:34 am

GUEST: Deb Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist

    If one is to befriend the beet, you must find a beet that's fit to eat, and you will not find that in here. Luckily, you can find it in here. Still suspicious? Well, consider this, man and beet go way back. How far? Well, I'd say about ...

DEB DUCHON: At least five thousand years.
AB: You don't say?

DD: Absolutely, and in fact, the four modern varieties of beet all come from the same original species, Beta maritima, the sea beet. It still grows wild along the coast of Europe and North Africa, and originally, people only ate it for the large leafy greens, because at that point the root was really small.
AB: You know Deb, size isn't everything.
DD: Who told you that?
AB: All right, what about the modern versions?
DD: Well, there's the Roman yellow beet, which is now called Mangelwurzel and it's used for animal fodder ...
AB: Easy for you to say!
DD: And then there's Swiss Chard.
AB: That's a beet?!
DD: Yes! 
AB: Don't that beat all?
DD: And then of course, there's the sugar beet.
AB: Uh-huh.
DD: Do you know who invented the process of taking sugar out of beets?
AB: Beats me.
DD: The French.


DD: [rushing] It was during the Napoleonic Wars, and the British had blockaded them. And they couldn't get any cane sugar in. And Napoleon ...
AB: Deb. Deb. Fascinating, fascinating. But what's number four?
DD: Oh, Beta vulgaris, the garden beet.
AB: Ah, okay.
DD: And of course, this comes in a lot of wonderful varieties too. See ...
AB: Indeed it does, and you know what? This is my field of expertise, so why don't you just ...
DD: Beet it?
AB: [Laughs]

Borscht (beet soup) is the national dish of the Ukraine.

    Besides the standard red beets, there are golden beets, white beets, even candy cane beets which are variegated white and red on the inside. Now, baby versions of each are available, but since they're harvest about forty-five days after planting, they're only available early on in the season. Me? I really just like plain old red beets. I don't think you can beat them for sweetness or texture.
    Now, I always go for bunch beets, okay? You want the greens intact. Healthy greens mean fresh beets. Of course, these taste good too, but more on that later. Now I never go for beets that are larger than, say, a tennis ball. Bigger than that and, well, I think they get too fibrous and they take forever to cook. Now if you have to buy bulk beets, or just loose beets, always look for specimen that are nice and smooth, no cracks or wrinkles. Yum.

The Kitchen

    How long will fresh beets keep fresh? Well, depends on how old they are, and how you store them. If you buy them early in the season, or when they've still got nice, tight greens on them, you've got some time to spare. How much? Well, if you park them in the refrigerator, you may only have three to four weeks to spare, but if you keep them in, say, your root cellar where it's nice and cool and dry, heck, you might get twenty weeks out of them. If you leave them in the ground where they grew, you get even more time.
    Of course, I don't have a root cellar, and I can't exactly leave them in the ground in which they grew, can I? But I can simulate those conditions. Check this out. [from the refrigerator he produces a container filled with sand and with beets buried in it] Pretty smart, huh? It's play sand. From the hardware store? Don't you remember what Deb said?

DD: ... Beta maritima, the sea beet. It still grows wild along the coast of Europe and North Africa...

    Well of course I cleaned it. I'm so paranoid, I even put it in a pan and ran it through the self-cleaning cycle of the oven; just in case there were any ... sand germs. Anyway, down in the sand it's always dark, whether the door is open or not, and the sand wicks away excess moisture while maintaining a proper humidity, and I don't have to tell you, it's always nice and cold down in the sand, whether you leave the door open a lot, or not.
    Of course, you do have to do a little prep. Make sure that you cut the greens off of the beets, or else they'll just sap the sap out of the beet. You wanna leave at least an inch and a half, okay? That way you want get nasty red dye all over your pristine white sand. Oh, this method is also very, very good for carrots. Oh sure, laugh now, but just wait till I get that Nobel Beet Prize.

Beets are known for their ability to purify the blood and liver.

    Regardless of their final culinary destination, I never peel beets before cooking them. For one thing, any chink in the armor will open up a spigot of red liquid which can stain. In fact, I think it stains worse when it's raw, than cooked. [I] gotta figure that out. Another reason is that they peel a lot easier after a quick cooking. So, cut the green back, about an inch leftsave thoseand then give them a scrub with a pad. I like this little scrubby guy, under water like that. Just get the dirt out.
    Now, unlike our grandmothers who were taught to cook beets with boiling water, I stay away from wet methods, because basically I think it pulls out flavor and nutrients without giving anything back. The one exception is steaming. If a recipe calls for peeled raw beets, I just drop them into the steamer for a couple of minutes, so that I can do this. Hey... easy off.
    So what do you do with beets in this condition? Well, you could run them through your V-Slicer, or your mandolin and then just marinate them for about four hours in your favorite oil and vinegar dressing, crumble on some stilton cheese, maybe add some toasted nuts and, voilà, salad. Or perhaps I should say [British accent] "good show", because this is really very, very British, and I mean that in a good way. 

In ancient Ireland, jack-o-lanterns were made from beets. 

The Kitchen

    When it comes to straightforward beet cookery, I'd rather roast than boil.  Here's why: dry heat intensifies flavor by driving off excess moisture while concentrating and breaking down sugars into other chemicals which just happen to taste really, really good. To help the heat move in quicker, though, I like to put some oil on the beets. I've got six to eight medium beets in a metal roasting pan, you wanna make sure they've got enough room to roast. So, put a little bit of oil on them, and rub it in. Now, the oil is important, because it's going to basically create a conduit for the heat. Remember, oil can get a lot hotter than water can, and that'll cook them faster.
    Here's the groovy thing, it also creates a waterproof barrier. I mean, remember water and oil don't exactly get along with each other. So, by putting oil on the outside, as it cooks the water inside is going to be a lot less likely to depart the beet. That means we end up with a beet that's done, but also moister.

    Set your oven for 400 degrees and check on these in about half an hour.


Mangelwurzel (gold beets) means "root in time of need" in German.

1/2 Hour Later

    When it comes to checking for doneness, I always go for a paring knife. Some cooks like using a skewer, but I can never really get a feel for them. Now, there is resistance, but not too much. The general rule is if it feels like a perfect baked potato, you over-cooked it. Now, if you're looking for something a little more, well, just something more, hold on.

[places about 4 beets onto a layer of aluminum foil, pours the oil all over them, add the shallots and rosemary around the sides, places a 2nd piece of foil on top and rolls up the sides 2 tsp. Olive Oil
2 Large Shallots, Peeled
3 Sprigs Rosemary
[places them in the oven]

400° For 40 mins.

    Mmmm.  Believe it or not, they taste as good as they smell. So, what do you do with roast beets? Well, you could just peel 'em, sprinkle on a little butter, some parsley, some salt and eat 'em!Or you could have some real fun, and pickle them.

Hispanic Novella

R: La amnesia pasará y entonces recordaré tu nombre, y te amaré más.

W: ¡Ay, Renaldo! (Ay, Renaldo!)
AB: Hey, uh, desculpe [sic].
R: ¿Por qué volvió, hombre loco?
AB: Umm, mis tacos es [sic] muy frío. Just gimme a second.


R: The amnesia will pass and then, I will remember your name and love you even more.
W: Oh, Renaldo!
AB: Hey, uh, excuse.
R: Why have you returned, crazy man?
AB: Umm, my taco is very cold. Just gimme a second.

    Look I'm not talking about those little red wedges of death they served you back in school, okay? Now, come on!


AB: Continue on-ay 
R: ¿Listo?
W: Sí.
R: La amnesia pasará.


AB: Continue on-ay.
R: Ready?
W: Yes.
R: The amnesia will pass.

The Kitchen

    If we're going to make pickles, of course, we must have a pickle. And our pickle begins with a cup of water, a cup of tarragon vinegar, you can make your own tarragon vinegar, of course, but that's another show. Half a cup of sugar, and a teaspoon and a half of kosher salt. 1 Cup H2O
1 Cup Tarragon Wine Vinegar
1/2 Cup Sugar
1 1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt
    This, we will bring to a boil in the microwave oven, and it should take about three minutes on high. Oh, and of course, anytime I bring a liquid to a boil in a microwave oven, I put a skewer in the vessel. That gives bubbles a place to collect so that they don't collect all over my hand when I open the door. It's been known to happen. Like I said, three minutes.

3 mins. on High Power

    Meanwhile, cut, peel, and cut your beets, roasted of course, into nice thin little disks. Look at that lovely color. And here, you find another really good reason for leaving on the stem... it makes a really groovy handle. Move those to a bowl metal or glass, please, no plastics.
    And, last but not least we will need one red onion [he catches the onion and throws it back] ... peeled [catches a peeled one and throws it back] ... and frenched [catches the same peeled onion, no frenched].

AB: What's wrong, you sissy?

    The frenching procedure which creates perfect, tiny, little wedges, wasn't actually named after the French people, it was named after the beloved Sebastian Cabot character, from "Family Affair". All right, so it's named after the French, but it really is easy, here's how.

    Cut your peeled onion in half, thusly, take a little piece off of the bloom end, and a little piece out of the root end so that the layers will separate. Now lay your knife down flat on the board, bring up your onion, and using your knuckles to guide, cut radially up to the middle of the onion, thusly. Roll the onion over, and repeat. Now, it takes a little bit of practice, but it is worth it, because in the end you create perfect little wedges of onions. Nice. Okay, next. 1 Red Onion Frenched
    Fill two one-quart jars almost to the top with alternating layers of beet and frenched onion. There. Now retrieve your pickle juice, remove skewer, and slowly fill to the top. I like to go all the way up on one, let it percolate a little bit, and come over and go to the other. Odds are good you'll have to do a little bit of refilling, as the air rises to the surface. There. Place on the lids, and allow these to cool to room temperature for about two hours before moving them into the refrigerator.

2 - 1 qt. Mason Jars

    Technically, they'll be pickles in about twelve hours, but the flavor will really hit stride in about a week, so, patience will be rewarded. Mmm. But you gotta remember, these are refrigerator pickles, not preserved, or puttin' up pickles, okay? So you've got to keep them in the refrigerator, and they're only gonna last here about a month. Yep, I got enough for a month.
    What do you mean, "What can you do with them"? Well, for one thing you can just eat 'em. You can cut them up and put them in salads. You can make relishes for meat. Heck, I take the juice that's left over, mix it up with home-made mayonnaise, and dip seared tuna into it. Very, very, very tasty. Now go wash those beety hands!

Pickled beets were first packaged by the
Greenwood Company of Brooklyn in 1937.

The Kitchen

    The red in beets comes from a pigment called betacyanin. It's heat-stable, and highly soluble in water, which is why it's been used as a dye for fabrics and as a food coloring. It also washes out pretty easily with soap. Now, personally, I don't mind a few dozen hand washings a day, but if you do, then by all means were gloves. Now, if you're a loyal Good Eats viewer, and I've no doubt that you are, you probably noticed that I do don latex gloves from time to time. Now, this is not because I have some, you know, detailed, I don't know, Quincy fantasies from childhood. It's because they stop cross-contamination, they help you keep hold of things, and they also help you work with foods that you might otherwise be allergic to. I, for one, would never touch oysters without these.
    Latex is made from the sap of rubber trees, and is referred to as a colloidal suspension of hydrocarbon isoprene unit polymers or, I don't know, something like that. [the rubber tree inches out of frame] I guess that whole ant/rubber tree plant thing isn't really true.
    Latex gloves come plain and powdered with cornstarch. The powdered models are easier to put on, but since the powder can become air born, it can be a problem for people who suffer from latex-related skin or repertory discomfort. Latex allergies are rare, but the chances of you developing one increase the more contact with latex you have, which explains why those clowns who bend up the balloon animals have such a tough time with health insurance.
    Okay, plastic gloves are used a lot in food service organizations, but I don't really like them because I think they're a little slippery, and the gloves themselves get in the way.
    The other option is vinyl. Now, vinyl are nice and fit, they're very tactile, so they're easy to work with, but they're a little on the pricey side. Certainly more expensive than good old latex, which is what I prefer.
    As far as finding these, well, just about any good hardware or drugstore will carry them, but if you can't find them, just go onto the Internet to your favorite search engine and type in "food service gloves."

Beet greens contain protein, calcium, fiber,
beta carotene and vitamins A, B and C.

    Since they contain so much sugar, beets are perfect for pan-glazing. A procedure that's darned close to candying, and good for other small sugary things, like carrots and pearl onions. The software begins with twenty baby beets, scrubbed with the afore mentioned kitchen scrubby. Now, these beets are easy to find early in the season, a little harder in the end of the year, but they can be gotten through Wintertime. By the way, since I don't like to put sand down my kitchen sink, I usually rinse root vegetables and spinach in a separate vessel, and then just water the plants with the leftovers. They don't mind the dirt.

    Now, these go into a sauté pan, meaning straight sides and a lid, along with two cups of apricot juice, you could use orange, but it gets a little bitter when you cook it. Now turn this up to medium heat, cover, and cook for ten minutes.  2 Cups Apricot Juice
    Now, add three tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar, and two tablespoons of your favorite honey. There we go. Stir that in briefly, reattach the cover, and turn the heat down just a hair under medium. Cook for another ten minutes. 3 Tbs. White Balsamic
2 Tbs. Honey

    Heat management is the key to this dish. If your heat is too high, the liquid will evaporate before the beets are cooked through. If there's not enough heat, the beets will cook through, but there'll be way, way too much juice in the pan to qualify as a glaze.
    Now, if you encounter the first problem, add a quarter cup of water, slap on the lid and let it cook over low heat for about three minutes, then check for doneness, boost the heat, finish the glaze. If you've got too much juice, you're going to have to evacuate the beets out with a slotted spoon, just put them in a bowl and then boost the heat, finish the glaze, and then reincorporate the beets. Finishing touches? Well, I don't know, some parsley would be nice.

Beets have a higher sugar content than any other vegetable.

The Kitchen

    Since you're still here, I have to assume that we've won you over to the way of the beet. You know, despite the crimes perpetrated on this humble root by lunchroom ladies everywhere, the beet remains nutritious, delicious, and gosh darn it, they're pretty.
    You know, speaking of nutrition, there's been a recent resurgence in the whole raw food movement, whose proponents hold that raw vegetables contain more nutrients than cooked. Well this is undeniably true, because heat does either destroy or deactivate a lot of different nutrients. But here's the thing, unless you can manage to chew your way through every single cell wall in a vegetable, like a beet, you're not gonna get to the nutrients, because there's nothing in the body's tool box to break these walls down. Now, cooking does remove some of these nutrients, right, but it also breaks down the cell walls, so that your digestive juices can remove them, making the rest of these nutrients available to you the eater.

AB: [he's handed beet greens] Oh, thank you.

    As for the beet greens, melt a tablespoon of butter over medium-high heat and add two cloves of garlic, minced. Pile in twelve ounces of sliced mushrooms and cook until soft and brown. Then add a pound of beet greens, stemmed and cleaned. 1 Tbs. Butter
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
12 oz. Sliced Mushrooms
1 lb. Beet Greens
    Meanwhile, mix together four egg yolks with half a cup of parmesan cheese, one cup of ricotta cheese, half a teaspoon of salt, and a quarter teaspoon of black pepper. Add this cheese mixture to the vegetation; stir well, and then pack into a well-lubricated baking dish. 4 Egg Yolks
1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan
1 Cup Ricotta Cheese
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. Pepper
    Sprinkle on some crumbled crackers, or even breakfast cereal, and bake at 375 degrees for forty-five minutes. 3/4 Cup Crumbled Ritz

375° For 45 mins.

    Now, see you next time on ...

Godzilla Movie

    [cut to Godzilla storming through the city again]

Hispanic Novella

AB: Oh, gee whiz...
R: [pauses, looks around, looks at AB] I was supposed to say another line.
AB: Yeah, you were.
CREW: [Laughs]

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Transcribed by by Jonathan Huffines

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010