Sunday, February 08, 2009


My favourite thing to do with Brussels sprouts

In the Times, Emily Weinstein has just done a column about two different preparations of Brussels sprouts, “lemony” and “bacony”. After a bit of a kitchen fire, she proceeded, undaunted:

And then I went right back to the kitchen to keep cooking. Such is my love of Brussels sprouts.

My first exposure to them came after I moved to New York and saw them on the menu at Italian restaurants like Otto and Frankies — a vegetable so square it was hip. A little soft, a little bitter, they were nearly always good, no matter what the preparation.

Such, too, is my love of Brussels sprouts, though I know many who don’t share it. They are a somewhat “challenging” vegetable, being sort of mini-cabbages and having that cabbagy character that can be sulphurous if they’re overcooked. And, yes, they can be bitter. But a slight bitterness is a nice touch, and they can be tender and sweet if they’re prepared well.

Brussels sprouts, please, with a capital “B” and an “s” at the end, named for Brussels, Belgium. Not “brussels”, and most definitely not “brussel”, though it’s certainly easy to lose that final “s” when one’s speaking it.

My first exposures to them were not pleasant, being only to the overcooked variety, with the strong smell and taste, and with a mushy texture that made them prone to flattening themselves on the plate if they fell off my fork. And then I went to England — not a place held in world renown for its food (the cooking term à l’anglaise means “boiled”) — where they were served to me steamed just to tenderness, and they were delightful.

Both preparations that Ms Weinstein describes are nice ones, and I’ve done them shredded, with bacon, myself. But my favourite is the one Ms Weinstein’s had poor results with:

I began trying to roast them at home. Instead of buying broccoli — for years my go-to vegetable — I bought Brussels sprouts and heads of garlic, roasting them together in the same way my mother taught me to cook root vegetables. I could never get them quite right. They were either too crunchy or soggy, too oily or too dry; the outer leaves on the sprout always peeled off in the pan; the seasonings never quite worked. Still, I ate whole pans of them.

I prefer to slice the garlic, and I add salt, pepper, and olive oil — and that’s all; quite simple. Trim the bottoms of the sprouts, halve them lengthwise (if there be a “lengthwise” for something approximately spherical... but you know what I mean), and discard the outer, tougher leaves. My supermarket sells them in pint-sized tubs, and I use two. With that, I slice about four garlic cloves thinly — more, perhaps, if the cloves are on the small side. Toss the sprouts and garlic with enough oil to coat but not to soak, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss again, and they’re ready for the oven.

I use a large, round, shallow pan, so they can mostly be in one layer. Kick the oven to 400F, and check them every ten minutes, giving them a stir when you do. They should be done in 20 or 30 minutes, depending on the size, and they’ll be tender and caramelized, sweet and garlicky, with just a touch of bitterness to let you know they’re not candy.

I, too, eat whole pans of them. Yum.


A'Llyn said... I want some Brussels sprouts!

Laurie said...

I am bookmarking this post! Yum! I love Brussels sprouts. My father grows them and picks them when they're much younger and more tender than I have ever found in a grocery store. One of the brewpubs around here batters, deep fries, and serves them with aioli - really good, but really bad for you.

I generally like all my vegetables mushy, though. I always thought it's because I'm from England.....I like the way you spelled favourite, by the way.

Ray said...

Yes! They are truly delightful, and I have grown to love them in spite of my mother's habit of cooking them to a mushy pulp (in the pressure cooker) when I was growing up. We used to joke that her method was: pressure-cook for six hours, and discard.

Thomas J. Brown said...

I just wanted to let you know I finally had an opportunity to try this recipe — despite wanting to try it since you first published it. They were delicious, and even though my mother claimed she hated Brussles sprouts (her mother is British), she liked them too. Thanks for sharing!

Barry Leiba said...

Thanks, Thomas, and I’m glad you and “mum” liked them!