10 January, 2011

Brussels Sprouts

Poor Brussels sprouts - they've had such a bad reputation for so long - fueled, no doubt, by the tendency of inexperienced cooks to boil the hell out of them before serving - that many people refuse to touch them almost no matter what the preparation.  I've been eating them since I was a kid.  My mother, bless her, never believed in cooking the living hell out of veggies, so even though she cooked sprouts the only way she knew how - in boiling water or  over steam - we never had mushy overcooked sprouts.  They were always bright-green from the steam and tender but not squishy.  That's likely the reason I've never had to approach Brussels sprouts as a problem, aka "How do I make these nasty shrunken monkey heads edible??"  (Protip:  Calling them "shrunken monkey heads" can actually help you get your kids to at least try them.  For some reason, kids are far more likely to bite into what they think is a shrunken head than they are to sample some never-before-experienced vegetable.)

Anyway, boiling Brussels sprouts - or even steaming them - is a pretty harsh way to treat what is a deceptively delicate veggie.  That kind of cooking brings out the sulphurous cabbagey elements of the sprout's flavor and turns the tender little leaves mushy and kind of fibrous.  Not even a big chunk of butter can save Brussels sprouts so cruelly tortured.

A far better way to bring out the best in Brussels sprouts is to try a preparation that caramelizes the outside of the little buds while letting their own moisture steam them in the pan.  Tossing them in a flavorsome oil and oven-roasting is a popular method, but I usually just heat some butter and olive oil in a skillet and sautee the sprouts until they take on a golden-brown hue and soften just to an al dente tenderness.  That's the basic technique I used when I came up with this Brussels sprouts recipe recently:

Brussels Sprouts with Shredded Leek
Servings dependent on quantity of ingredients

Brussels sprouts
Olive oil
1 or 2 leeks
2 or 3 garlic cloves, roughly broken and sliced
Salt & Freshly ground pepper to taste

Choose sprouts that are fairly uniform in size.  Sometimes this isn't possible because of the way the sprouts are packaged by the grocery store - in this case, when you're trimming and paring the sprouts, cut the largest ones in half (through the base so the halves don't fall apart to loose leaves) so they all cook evenly.

Clean the sand from the leeks and trim away the really tough green leaves.  Cut the barrels of the leeks into 2- or 3-inch lengths, then julienne the cylindrical cuts into narrow strips about 1/8-inch wide.  Set them aside.

Melt a couple of tablespoons of butter in a heavy skillet and add about an equal measure of olive oil.  Heat until the butter is foamy over a medium fire, then tip in the sprouts.  Cook and stir the sprouts, coating them with the butter and oil as you sautee them, until they begin to caramelize.  Before they get too brown, add the shredded leeks and the garlic.  Continue to sautee as the sprouts brown and the shredded leek wilts and softens.  When the leeks are soft and tender and the sprouts are caramelized and can be pierced with a fork, they're done - serve 'em up.

The earthy leafiness of the sprouts are complimented nicely by the shredded leek, which gives a subtle oniony sweetness to the dish.  To keep the leeks and garlic from burning during the time it takes the sprouts to cook, be sure to add them at least halfway through the cooking process.

Sorry for the lack of quantities in this recipe, but it's one of those recipes that is very flexible, and the quantities you use are governed more by the number of people you're feeding than any strict recipenarian guidelines.

For another favorable take on Brussels sprouts, check out this post at Leeanne Griffin's Fun With Carbs.  Coincidentally, Leeanne wrote about sprouts this weekend too.


Leeanne said...

Thanks for the link, Dave. Your recipe sounds great, too. I think I'll be bringing home many more sprouts this winter.

auntjone said...

Thanks for posting this! I recently started roasting sprouts but will definitely try this stove top version next time I'm in the mood for shrunken monkey heads.

lil @ sweetsbysillianah said...

i actually had brussel sprouts for the first time this year and love them! they get such a bad rap... i've stir-fried them up with bacon and garlic... but i will definitely try this!