How to Cook Brussels Sprouts

A plate of brussels sprouts.

Look at these delicious sprouts.

After a quick, highly scientific perusal of the wikipedia entry on these little buggers, I found out these cool little facts. 1. Yes, it is in fact brussels (with a third ‘s’) sprouts, not brussel sprouts. Personally, I was never sure on that point. I would just try to swallow the end of the word when saying it to hedge my bets. 2. They are cruciferous veggies that are relatives of cabbage, kale, collard greens and kohlrabi. 3. They have a lot of anti-cancer compounds. And, 4. this is that most exciting thing, especially if you are not fond of brussels sprouts from way back when. Super smart scientists in the Netherlands used a selective breeding program to breed out the chemical in brussels sprouts that made them bitter. Now, these less bitter sprouts are grown around the world and have caused the surge in popularity in them. This means these are not the same sprouts you ate as a kid. If you have a previous grudge against them, but like to eat cabbage or kale, you should try them again.

I wasn’t a fan of sprouts until I ran across some fresh ones stuck to the stalk. If you’ve never seen sprouts on a stalk, you should hunt one down. It is one of the weirdest looking food items since kohlrabi. As soon as I saw them, I knew I had to learn how to cook them just so I could buy them. I can only vouch for fresh brussels sprouts, as the frozen ones I have had weren’t that exciting. But, perhaps there have been advances in recent years on that front.

What should they look like when I buy them?

Brussels sprouts should have tightly packed leaves and be free from condensation. When you squeeze them, they shouldn’t give. Ideally, they should be a medium green with lighter greens toward the stock. Sprouts that are only the color of light green cabbage are either picked too early or they have had the outer leaves removed indicating they are old.

How do I clean brussels sprouts?

Rinse them off in cold water. Cut the end of the stem off that has browned. Pull off leaves that are browned or look funny. You can also cut off sides that are looking mottled. If you are sauteing them, let them dry in a colander before cooking.

How do I cook brussels sprouts?

Sprouts can be a bit tricky to cook. They are basically tiny little cabbages with tightly packed leaves around a center stalk. The center part takes longer to cook than the outer part and, without some steaming, they can get quite dry. There’s a couple of tricks to get them to cook evenly. If you are sauteing or roasting them, cut them in half through the stem (see picture) to keep the leaves attached. If you are boiling them, cut them in quarters.

Most people like their sprouts with a little color on them. The carmelization adds a more complex flavor. Without it, sprouts taste very similar to green cabbage cooked in the same manner.

Most people will add their sprouts face down in a hot pan with a little oil or butter in it. Then, once they have a little coloring on the face, they add 1-2 tablespoons of water, cover it with a tight-fitting lid and steam them in the pan until fork tender.

The ones pictured above I cooked slightly differently, but got very good results. I put a little oil in the bottom of a cold pan and added the sprouts face down. Then, without adding any extra water, I put the lid on and turned on the heat under the pan. By the time they were fork tender, they had that delicious carmelization and were steamed in their own juices.

What do I add for flavorings?

Brussels sprouts are always excellent with salt pepper and a little vinegar. Bacon is a classic pairing that you can’t go wrong with.

Sprouts are always healthy, right?

You have to look carefully at your recipe. Many sprouts recipes are created for the Thanksgiving recipe crowd, so there can be a lot of fat. Also, if you have a condition with low-thyroid hormones, you want to avoid too many cruciferous vegetables.

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