Besides broccoli, I know of no vegetable that brings on fear and loathing like the Brussels sprout. They’re so cute, the children say, like tiny little cabbages. And then they sit down and eat one and vow to never eat (or smell) those things again.
That’s how I felt for a long time so I totally get it. You walk in the door and wonder what in the world died and made its way into that poor, poor pot on the stove. Not only does it stink in the kitchen but the entire house has been permeated by an evil sulfuric odor that cannot be forgotten.
It wasn’t until I started getting them in our CSA that I knew I had to figure this whole Brussels sprouts mystery out. So I hunted around, tried different techniques, and one day realized that a.) our kitchen didn’t stink (and neither did the rest of the house) and b.) we really liked Brussels sprouts. I mean really as in my six-year-old did a little Brussels sprouts dance when he saw me preparing them the other day.
And the next day this happened:
Husband: “I could not get enough of those little things at dinner last night.“
Me: “You mean Brussels sprouts?“
Him: “Yeah, Brussels sprouts!“
Brussels sprout mystery solved. Here are the keys to unlocking the awesomeness of this stinky little vegetable.
Brussels sprouts, and all brassicas, contain sulfuric compounds. This is really good for you, in fact its one of the many reasons that eating cruciferous vegetables like kale, collards, cabbage, broccoli and so on every day is a good idea.
It is also those sulfur compounds that can stink. Ever smelled over-boiled cabbage? How about mushy cauliflower? See, stinky. These sulfur compounds when over-heated or heated for too long begin to really kick up a notch and waft into every crevice of your home while creating a vegetable that’s almost bitter. Not dance-worthy.
Cooking Brussels sprouts swiftly is a good idea. Roasting them in a dry heat seems to be even better and almost always results in delicious B. sprouts. This can be done simply by tossing with some coconut oil or lard, salt and pepper, and popping into a preheated 425 degree oven. Cook until barely tender and starting to brown deeply and crisp up around edges.
If you want them to cook quickly then we must break them down as cooking them whole is often where we go wrong. Cooking them whole takes longer which encourages more of that sulfur flavor we’re not keen on. So I slice off the little ends and then cut them in half. It adds maybe 5 minutes per pound of Brussels to the preparation time, but it’s very worth it. The bonus of this is that the increased surface equals more crunchy deliciousness. You can also shred them as in a slaw.
That ubiquitous brassica flavor that Brussels contain is an excellent juxtaposition to many interesting and bold flavors. One of our favorite ways to serve them is in a warm salad mixed with blue cheese, onions, and apples. Grab a fork and call it dinner in our house. Another popular method is to roast them beneath a whole pastured chicken. The fat of the chicken drips into the sprouts and they caramelize nicely during the long cooking process. Frying up a couple of strips of bacon, some red onion, and shredded sprouts is terrific especially if you finish it with a squeeze of lemon.
Of course pairing them with rich cheese and milk in this Brussels Sprouts Gratin isn’t a bad idea either. Tossing with pasta, chili and pancetta in this recipe is also correct. And if you fancy raw Brussels sprouts this Brussels Sprouts Salad with hazelnuts and thyme is a great winter slaw.
That, my friends, is how I went from being a hater to a downright enthusiast, taking my husband and children with me.