Monday, 17 June 2024

Foodie Freak: Brussels sprouts

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I know, I know, you don’t like Brussels sprouts. I get it, you hate them ... are you through complaining about it?


I have to tell you something and this is going to hurt a little but I think that you have to hear it ... it’s your mother’s fault. It is. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but she didn’t know how to cook them and she scarred your psyche forever because of it. OK, maybe not your psyche but definitely your palate.


Now close your mouth and wipe the tears of disbelief away and I’ll explain. No, no, don’t start telling me how your mother could cook the seat from an antique junked Harley Davidson and make it delicious and tender, I don’t doubt that. It’s only the Brussels sprouts that I’m saying escaped her talent. Now please, let me explain.


Brussels sprouts are a member of the same family as cabbage, broccoli and kohlrabi. Their development began in ancient Rome but their cultivation is best in colder climates so they are more popular with countries that have cooler regions for growing.


They really started to become a mainstream item when they were grown in the country of Belgium (capitol: Brussels, hence the name) in the first half of the last century. For us, the coastal climate of California gives them a place to thrive with the cool ocean air and foggy days. They are best in the winter although they are available year round.


A look at a Brussels sprout plant is to see an evolutionary branch that you may not have ever considered otherwise. A tall stalk, 2 to 3 feet high, has leaves on the top to nourish it while the tiny heads form on the sides of the cane. Large leaves growing up the stalk are removed during sprout formation. Removing them gives the sprouts room to grow and better access to sunlight.


Anywhere from 20 to 40 little heads will develop at a time and after picking the first harvest off the stalk, another flush of sprouts will grow. When you purchase fresh Brussels sprouts try to cook them as soon as you can, because after a few days they start to develop strong tastes reminiscent of horseradish.


Brussels sprouts are freakishly nutritious and should be part of your regular diet. One cup of Brussels sprouts has 150 percent of your daily Vitamin C and 250 percent Vitamin K. They also have a large amount of folic acid, which is why obstetricians recommend Brussels sprouts for pregnant women.


Then there is the Vitamin A, iron, fiber – the list of the nutrition that they contain goes on for quite a while. Several studies have even shown that Brussels sprouts can contribute in preventing cancer, and people who ate a diet high in cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts had 49 percent less incidence of colorectal cancers than the rest of the population. For those of you who think one cup of Brussels sprouts is a lot, it’s only about seven whole sprouts, that’s it.


Many people believe that Brussels sprouts are best after they have survived a frost. Since many plants try to protect themselves by storing sugars after a frost this is more than just an old wives tale. Although Brussels sprouts are fairly easy to grow, just about every garden parasite you can think of loves them, so being vigilant when growing them is important. If you think about it, if so many pests love them then they must be good for you; after all, how many pests do you get on your weeds?


The reason your mother couldn’t cook Brussels sprouts very well is because most cooks seem to think if you cook something longer it will get less bitter. With Brussels sprouts this is exactly the opposite; the more they are cooked the worse they taste.


If Brussels sprouts are overcooked they become bitter and develop a sulfurous smell, which as you know is not very appetizing. It’s similar with other members of Brussels sprouts family like cabbage and broccoli – overcook them and they become bad tasting, too. The Brussels sprouts firmness and almost willful refusal to become tender when overcooked makes them their own worst enemy.


So when cooking Brussels sprouts you should consider it more that you’re heating them to a comfortable temperature rather than performing a usual cooking process. If you want good tasting Brussels sprouts then you need to cook them for no more than six minutes – and I’m talking about “down to the second” six minutes. If they are cooked for six minutes and 10 seconds then you’re just scarring your child like your mother did to you, and don’t we want to break the cycle?


My daughter loves Brussels sprouts because I follow the rule of never overcooking them. I even add an extra layer of safety by only cooking Brussels sprouts for five minutes and allowing carry-over heat (the heat already inside the sprouts) to finish the cooking process. I beg you to try it so we can end the stigma of Brussels sprouts.


Some sources recommend cutting a cross into the base to assist in the cooking of Brussels sprouts, but I don’t see the need. To help with even cooking I cut all of my Brussels sprouts in half, and instead of boiling or steaming I prefer pan frying. The sear on the sprouts gives an extra layer of flavor that I enjoy.


Pan fried Brussels sprouts

2 pounds fresh Brussels sprouts (halved)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (bacon fat works great also)

4 tablespoon cold butter

2 drops orange extract (optional)

A kitchen timer (not in the least optional)

Salt to taste


Put a large fry pan with a lid on high heat with the vegetable oil. When the pan is very hot and the oil starts to smoke, set and/or start a timer for five minutes. Add the Brussels sprouts and cover the pan and let the sprouts sit for a minute (one whole minute, seriously, you’ve got a timer for a reason).


At the one minute mark turn the heat down to medium and stir the Brussels sprouts well. Re-cover the pan and let cook one more minute. Don’t remove the lid just shake the pan every minute or so until the timer rings.


Then remove from the heat and pour sprouts into a bowl, add the cold butter and orange extract and stir to melt the butter and coat the sprouts. The cold butter will stop the sprouts from overcooking as you stir it in. Add any desired salt. Once the butter is melted put the sprouts in a serving bowl or plate.


Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community.


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