Brussels sprouts are one of my absolute favorite vegetables, but it was only recently that I developed such an affection for them. I know there is a significant number of people who dislike them because they’ve only had them over-cooked, which is a big sprout no-no. Overcooking any vegetable can make for an unpalatable meal, but sprouts, being cabbages, can reach a special level of grossness if cooked too long.
Cabbage contains sulfur compunds that become increasingly pungent the longer it is cooked. If you’ve ever been in a kitchen with over-steamed brussels sprouts, you know what I’m talking about. Not only can you smell it, but you can taste it too; it becomes bitter and generally unappetizing. Well, to me anyway.
The good news is that as long as you understand why this is happening, it’s easy to avoid. If you give your sprouts just a little extra attention (and a little less time in the pot), you’ll be rewarded with a nutty, almost sweet, tender-crisp miniature cabbage of love. But I’m biased, if you can’t tell.
However, no matter how expertly cooked they are, you need to start with quality sprouts to have satisfying meal.
The sprout on the left is what we’re shooting for, but let’s start with the middle one. Its leaves are loose, it feels light and airy. Even squishy. Squishy is bad. If you picked it up, you’d feel the loose leaves – it’s almost spongy. The sprout on the right has a similar problem, but it’s mostly due to its elongated shape. Trimming the end of this sprout causes it to fall apart completely, which is not what we want.
What we do want is the sprout on the left, round and heavy for its size. If you pinch it there is no give, since all its leaves are densely packed. Despite one or two around the base, all the leaves are held tightly together. Like, water tight. This is exactly what you want. Spend an extra minute picking out your sprouts so all of them look and feel like this. They should also be of similar size so they cook in the same amount of time.Â If you can’t find sprouts that meet these standards, it’s time to consider a different vegetable for dinner.
With a sharp knife, trim off a small amount of the end of the sprout. Peel off the outer leaves (they might just fall off after trimming) until you see a slightly lighter green, clean, shiny surface emerge. Some sprouts will require you to peel off more leaves than others, but when in doubt, less is more.
Depending on what you’re doing with them, this might be as much prep as they need. In this state they can be steamed or roasted whole with great results. Some people use a sharp paring knife to cut a shallow X in the bottom of each one so they cook more evenly.
You can also halve them: (my favorite recipe)
Or hash them: (recipe)
So go! Hurry! The sprout season is ending! You don’t want to have to wait until next October to try these, do you?