Reach out for sprouts
Brussels sprouts are often overcooked and underseasoned, but with the right treatment, they can be certifiably delicious.
Take the case of cranberry relish, traditionally consumed just once a year at Thanksgiving but so often purchased in the can, processed and gelatinous, already defeated. But the cranberry is native to the United States, and is a jewel of a fruit—as tart as it is bright red, begging to be bitten, and accenting not only turkey but pork, duck, goose, venison—the meats we eat all winter. Now that’s a miscarried vegetable.
Speaking of miscarried vegetables, is there a child that doesn’t dread the sprout? A sulfurous smell oozes from the kitchen; a mound of watery, chewy balled-up leaves emerges, along with immediate orders to “eat your sprouts—they’re good for you!”. Even the family dog refuses the proffered palmful. But nowadays we have tools that Grammy may not have had—we salt the water, we season with bacon, vinegar and honey, and we don’t overcook.
Brussels sprouts grow on a long stalk, emerging like nubby heads of cabbage in spirals around it. A few years ago, it became fashionable to offer Brussels sprouts still on the stalk, making for a dramatic display (and a hefty price, if one is paying by the pound). Perhaps the nubbies stay fresher on the stalk—it would continue to nourish them for some short period of time—and it certainly offers a conversation piece.
Fresh sprouts should be a radiant green, tightly furled, with few signs of drying, tattering or bruising. If outer leaves are damaged or dry, remove them just before cooking. When fortune smiles and you find locally grown Brussels sprouts in a variety of sizes, simply begin cooking the larger ones first, then add the smaller ones to the pot or pan.—Lisa Reeder
Easier on the schnoz
Like all members of the cabbage family (and all of the brassicas, including broccoli and cauliflower), Brussels sprouts produce sulfurous chemical compounds when cell walls are damaged (by bruising or cutting) and then exposed to heat. There are several ways of minimizing this “rotten egg” effect, or masking it when it does occur.
Firstly, consider cooking the sprouts whole in plenty of salted water, then cooling them before cutting or chopping. Slicing a small X on the stem end will allow water to permeate the sprout, which will accelerate cooking and dilute the sulfur compounds.
If you must cut open your sprouts raw, always use a very sharp knife (to minimize collateral damage) and consider tossing them in oil and then cooking them gently, either stovetop or in the oven. The more gently they are handled, the less stink will be emitted.
Finally, designing your sprout dish to include a sweet element, like plump golden raisins or balsamic vinegar or apple cider or caramelized onions, will help mask their telltale smell as well as rendering them certifiably delicious.—L.R.
THINGS TO DO WITH BRUSSELS SPROUTS:
• Trim off tough stem end, and roast underneath a whole chicken or goose. To serve, remove bird for carving, taste and season the sprouts with salt, pepper, and lemon or vinegar, and arrange on platter around bird.
Boiled whole in salted water:
• Drain well, slice in half and remove the tough base. Brown in butter with shallots and season with salt, pepper, and raisins soaked in sweet white wine.
• Drain well, slice in half and remove tough base. Toss in olive oil and salt and bake or broil at high heat until crackling and browning slightly. Season with lemon, or a nutty cheese, or fresh herbs.
Sliced in half, stem removed:
• Braise covered at low heat with caramelized onions, apple cider and bacon bits. Remove from pan, leave liquid in pan and reduce at high heat to make drizzling syrup.
• Toss in olive oil with cubed sweet potato and roast until tender (uncover for last 10 minutes). Season with salt and pepper.
Sliced into ribbons, or leaves pulled off stems:
• Sauté briefly in oil with garlic and drizzle with red wine vinegar and fresh herbs.
• Sauté in bacon fat and toss with grated apple and pine nuts.The fall and winter holidays are rife with miscarriages of vegetables. What? Like justice, vegetables can (and often are) delivered to the holiday table as a pale example of themselves. Overcooked, underseasoned, pulled from the freezer as an afterthought—as meat enjoys the spotlight at the center of holiday tables, vegetable “sides” suffer silently on kitchen countertops and, too soon, are scraped off the plate.