|Ladies and gentlemen, behold, the Brassicas, a botanical family so tightly knit, genetically speaking, that you'd expect at least one of them to be playing a banjo. Now the original plant, Brassica oleracea, was a short, loose-leaf variety that grew wild along coastal areas in Europe. Now as farmers took these plants and began to manipulate them, isolating mutations and then crossbreeding them, the family slowly but surely diversified into what is today a vegetal dynasty some 400 members strong. But they do all fit, roughly, into five broad categories, okay? You've got the curly leaves such as kale and collards, those composed of masses of flowering buds broccoli and cauliflower, of course. You've got pointy cabbages like Chinese cabbage, and round cabbages, including white, green and red.||
Green Kale $1.49 ea
Rapini $3.49 ea
Collard Greens $3.49 ea
Broccoli Crowns $2.99 ea
Savory Cabbage $1.69 ea
Nappa Cabbage $1.69 ea
Green & Red Cabbage 79¢ lb
Brussels Sprouts Stalks
Loose Brussels Sprouts
And then we have the crown jewels of the family, the beluga caviar of cabbages,
Brussels sprouts. Which, chronologically speaking, are relative infants, which
is, of course, what they look like. They only came on to the scene probably in
the first few years of the 18th century.
Now as for the name, these marvels do actually grow around Brussels. But we have scoured our visual records of that fair city and haven't seen a single sprout. In truth, the name at least, probably came from France where 19th century botanical nomenclaturists were crazy about adding place names to each and every moniker whether it was true or not. However, considering who our client is, I'm prepared to stand up and swear Brussels sprouts are definitely from Brussels. Now as for the sprout's American experience ...
THOMAS JEFFERSON: I declare these sprouts to be delicious.
Thomas Jefferson is credited as having introduced the plant to colonial soil and, of course, at his garden in Monticello. But, you know, Thomas Jefferson seems to get the credit for bringing every food imaginable into America.
can't possibly all be true, can they, Jefferson?
TJ: [walks off in a mild huff]
What we do know is that private gardens remained the realm of the sprout until 1945 when the burgeoning frozen foods industry embraced the fast-to-blanch, easy-to-freeze orbs. But the ...
AB: [gets hit by a flying bag of frozen Brussels sprouts] I saw that, Jefferson!
Oh! The quality of these early rock-hard specimens ... [throws the bag back]
... may have gone a long way in explaining the sprouts' nefarious reputation. Of
course, frozen food technology has gotten a whole lot better. But I still prefer
them in their raw state.
Now Brussels sprouts are available year round, but they are at their fresh peak Fall to early Spring when that cold weather concentrates their natural sugars, which is important.
Now when purchasing, look for firm, compact heads with bright dark green leaves, as you would with any cabbage. Avoid soft or pudgy sprouts or anything with yellow leaves. Yellow is a sure sign of age, because it means that the more time-sensitive green chlorophyll has given up the ghost, leaving the long-lasting yellow behind. It's like a marker for old sprouts. That's bad.
Now if and when you find good-looking sprouts still on the stalk, you definitely want to buy them. Not only are the stalks, well, really cool-looking, they are what they seem - life-support units. That's good.
In fact, if you trim the ends and park your stalks in clean water in a cool
place, your sprouts could remain viable for upwards of a week. During which time
you can simply cut off what you need with a sharp paring knife. So it's
beautiful and functional. [puts a sprout in his mouth, but then takes it out]
But not very good, raw.
[at the refrigerator] If you can land only off-stalk sprouts, place them in an open plastic bag so they can breathe, and place that inside your crisper drawer. And if the crisper drawer has not been set for maximum humidity, do so now. In here, you'll get three to four days max, but only if you do not wash them and you don't peel out the outer leaves. If you do that, well, all bets are off. [the telephone rings]
S: [speaking from a Brussels Pub, sitting with the Flight Attendant] AB, Sid here. How's the sprout fest?
AB: Well, we've laid in supplies. Where are you?
S: Oh, my flight was delayed. I'm trying to pick up a little Belgian.
AB: That's not Belgian, Sid. It's French with a funny accent.
S: Yeah, whatever. Foreign tongues have always eluded me. Oh, look, I had to cash their first check to cover my expenses, so you'd better get to work.
AB: Expenses? What expenses?
S: They want something basic. You know, Brussels Sprouts 101: a recipe so that everyone can be put at ease with the little green guys.
AB: What expenses?
S: Oh, darn it. My cell phone's dying. You don't know how hard it is to charge these things in Europe. [hangs up]
Popular American Brussels sprout varieties include:
[AB holds up an old recipe card] Behold, the Brown family recipe for Brussels
sprouts. The Browns, by the way, we're English, ergo, the recipe calls for
cooking the sprouts for an hour at a rolling boil. The result: slimy, drab,
stinky, inedible balls of doom. To avoid this fate, we simply apply a bit of
Cooking Brussels sprouts, like cooking any cabbage, is a balancing act. You're hoping to maximize three primary characteristics all at the same time: flavor, texture and aroma. Okay, now texture is, of course, a matter of doneness, and doneness is all about breaking down cell walls. Now when you get it just right, they're not hard, they're not mushy, they're just slightly chewy. The problem is that the breaking down of the cell walls releases some, well, unfriendly chemical compounds. You see, sprouts contain sinigrin, which is a type of glucose cyanate [sic, glucosinolate]. Now glucose cyanates are a class of organic compounds, which also contain sulfur and nitrogen. Now as the sprouts cook, the sinigrin begins to degrade into allyl-isothiocyanate, or mustard oil, which explains the nasty-tasting compounds and the less than appealing aroma. Somewhere between rotten eggs and, well, sweaty Army socks, I would say.
Now we could dilute these by cooking the sprouts in a large amount of water. But here's the thing: a lot of the nasty-tasting compounds are powerful nutrients. Cancer-fighters, in fact. And they're mostly water-soluble. So the more water you use, the more you wash away. So reaching optimum conditions on all of these fronts at one time is pretty much impossible. Sorry. But your best bet is to cook sprouts as quickly as possible in as little water as possible.
|Begin with one pound of rinsed sprouts. If you notice that any of the outer leaves are beginning to wilt or yellow, go ahead and remove those before proceeding. Now you may have seen some recipes that call for cutting an "x" into the bottom of the stem, as if that's going to speed up the cooking. I certainly don't believe it. We do want to speed cooking. So do this: just trim off the bottom of the stem and then split in half, longitudinally. This will also keep them from rolling off the plate when they're done. A lot easier to eat that way.||1 Pound Brussels Sprouts|
|Now into a three to four quart saucier, add a mere half cup of water, and a quarter teaspoon of kosher salt. Cover, crank the heat to high, and cook for exactly five minutes. About halfway through, give them a little bit of a shake just to move that water around. There.||
½ Cup Water
¼ tsp. Kosher Salt
When the lid comes off, there's going to be a lot of steam, so be careful.
There. Nice sprouts.
[at the table] Ahh! Serve as a side or toss with a little melted butter and some toasted breadcrumbs and consume in mass quantities.
[telephone rings] Oooh. That better be my new and already-regretted business partner. Excuse me.
AB: Hello? Sid? What's that music?
S: [Sid is in a pub, many alcohol glasses sit empty in front of him, the Flight Attendant at his side] Oh, it's elevator music. I'm on my way down to the food court for a taste of the local cuisine. Ah, have you gotten anything for the clients yet? The clock's a-tickin'.
AB: Well, I've worked out some basic moves that I think will silence the critics.
S: The people of Brussels are not interested in silencing critics, buddy boy. They want something that will give them culinary superiority.
AB: Like what?
S: Oh, like something the big cabbages can do that the little runtier ones can do better.
AB: Like what?
S: Oh, I don't know. Like, why don't you go get an isty-bitsy shredder and make slaw, huh? Or why don't you purée it? Oh, or better yet, "Poirot" it. You get it? Poirot it! Hah hah hah hah hah hah. Oh, I slay! [turning his attention to the Flight Attendant] Oh, thank you ...
[the other line hangs up] I just want to officially apologize to all of you Agatha Christie fans out
there. All right, slaw, slaw, slaw. Why not?
Seeing as how Brussels sprouts are really just miniature green cabbages, shredding them for slaw might not seem, you know, too revolutionary. But keep in mind, like so many members of the botanical world, smaller brassicas are stronger brassicas. So I propose that we tame the sprout's bitter bite with just a wee little kiss of heat. But before we cook, we must fabricate.
Now I like knives. Knives are very, very nice. But unless you're a real samurai, mowing through a pound of rinsed and trimmed sprouts could take, well, a long time. Besides, most food processors these days come armed with a slicing blade like this which, if you're like me, you almost never use. Today's the day. Now even pressure on the feed tube is the key here.
|Okay, now that our sprouts have been properly processed, fetcheth forth three ounces of coarsely chopped pecans and move them over to a 10-inch, straight-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat. Now keep these moving for several minutes until they just begin to darken and color and give off a nice toasty aroma. Two minutes ought to do the job.||
3 Ounces Coarsely Chopped
All right, once the pecans are perfectly toasted, we will add three tablespoons of unsalted butter and melt. Now bring the sprouts to the party, along with salt and pepper to taste. I go about a quarter teaspoon on both. Now keep stirring as these cook. I find that tongs are better for turning over the sprouts. Better than a spoon. Now we're shooting for the moment that they are perfectly done. They'll be bright green with just a little bit of brown around the edges, and that's good because brown means sweetness.
3 Tbs. Unsalted Butter
1 Pound Shredded Brussels
In Belgium, Brussels sprouts are traditionally cooked with peeled chestnuts.
GUEST: Police Officer
|All right, our sprouts have been on the heat for nearly six minutes. [checks his watch] Yeah. The greens are still bright, but little pieces are starting to brown around the edges. That means caramelization. That means we are done. So kill the heat, and add the final ingredient, four ounces of coarsely chopped dried cranberries ...||
4 Ounces Dried Cranberries,
[now at the table where the side dish is served with sliced turkey] ... which provide tartness as well as sweetness, a nice contrast to the toasty goodness of the nuts and—how can I say this—the bright, vegetal funk of the sprouts. You know, now that I think about it, this is less a slaw than a hash.
AB: You know, Sid, I don't usually give serving
suggestions, but in this case, roast turkey. That's all I'm going to say, roast
S: [from a jail cell, a Police Officer is holding the phone up to his ear] We need to think of something better than that, and fast. I'm here on standby and I'm trying to fit this into the big picture, and I really don't think that these Brussili ... Brussul ... Brusselites would go for it. No, we need a showstopper, Kid. We need a magazine cover. We need something these guys can take to the European Food Union convention in a couple of weeks. Oh, I've got to run. I think my flight's being called.
AB: Sid? Sid?
Well, sounds like we need to turn up the old flavor knob to 11. Now our slaw played to sprouts' sharper attributes. But, one of the sulfur compounds that forms when sprouts cook is dimethyl sulfide, a prime flavorant in wine, quince, and truffles. A lot of earthiness there. We just need to round off the harsh edges a little bit and ...
THING: [hands AB an orbital sander]
AB: Thank you. Thank you, Thing.
But when you want to take the edges off of flavors, you don't reach
for abrasives. You reach for ...
[at the refrigerator] ... fat. Sorry, I know it's not a popular word. But the truth is, fats can round off sprouts' sharp, edgy qualities while stretching the earthy tones. Besides, with all the fabulous vitamins A, C, K, and B1, included in each and every sprout, you can afford a little fat. Say, bacon. Six slices should do the trick. Mmm.
|Snip your six rashers into wee pieces and brown in a 10-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat. Now while that cooks, make sure that you have one basic Brussels sprouts recipe batch standing by.||
6 Slices Bacon, Cut into
1 Recipe Basic Brussels
|Now five minutes or so, drain the bacon into a strainer set over a heat-proof bowl. Now there is a lot of flavor in these drippings, so one tablespoon of that goes back into the pan over low heat. Next up, one small onion, julienned. Now how might one produce such a cut? Come with me.||
1 Tbs. Bacon Fat
1 Small Onion, Julienned
[at the kitchen counter with a mirror to see both sides of the onion] First, find yourself an onion. The mirror, by the way, is completely optional. Peel it, cut it in half, and I usually leave a little bit of the root end intact when I peel. It makes it easier. But that's going to need to come off. So with a santoku or a chef's knife, remove thusly. Then make orbital slices, moving in an arc longitudinally. Then fold over the next piece and repeat. There. You'll end up with nice little julienne.
|Okay, when the onion is nice and softened, add about a teaspoon of salt, along with one Granny Smith apple, cored and chopped, peel left intact. Cook another minute.||
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
1 Granny Smith Apple, Cored
Okay, time to bring the sprouts back to the party, along with half a cup of heavy cream, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard [holds up the small displacement measuring cup] Isn't it cute? And cook until the sprouts are just heated through. Then quickly finish with the bacon, one ounce of crumbled blue cheese, and a pinch of nutmeg. And I always keep one of these [nutmegs] in my pocket, just in case.
½ Cup Heavy Cream
1 tsp. Dijon Mustard
1 Ounce Crumbled Blue
[at the table with AB] Mmm. Mmm. Ohh, AB, this dish is going to get you a statue on the
Eikstraat, right next to Manneken Pis.
AB: Mm-hmm. Really? Hey, isn't that the statue of the little boy who's [peeing] ...
S: Uh, yes, yes, but sometimes they hook him up to a beer keg. They also like to dress him in little costumes. Strange folk. [reflecting on the food] Still ...
AB: Still, what?
S: Well, the sprouts are the carrier, but the flavor. It's all bacon and blue cheese, am I right?
AB: Well, no, because I think...
S: Yeah, of course I am. You see, blue cheese is French. Belgians hate the French.
AB: Like I hate you.
S: [laughs] We need a dish that shouts, "I am Brussels sprouts, hear me roar!" Not, "I am Brussels sprouts, sorry I stink." [sticks a Brussels sprout in AB's mouth] Aha! Hmm. Mmm, you know, I'm seriously jet-lagged. I'm going to catch a few Z's in your guest room.
AB: No, I don't ...
S: Oh, oh, oh! And this bag is full of the good stuff from the homeland. Sprouts! Yes!
AB: Hey, I thought you couldn't bring raw agriculture into the country.
S: You can, if you're a diplomatic attaché. Nighty-night.
California grows 98% of America's Brussels sprouts.
[at the chalkboard, brainstorming] Okay, big, bold sprout flavors. Fine. Supporting cast: since they share a lot of the same chemistry, we'll add some mustard seed. Nope, nope, too subtle - dry mustard. And over here, we need an aromatic that can play nice with the sprouts natural funk factor. Something that can stand up to the sprout, maybe sweetens while it cooks, uh, garlic! Garlic will be good. Salt, for sure. We'll see about pepper later. Now we need a cooking method. We should probably avoid water which can wash away flavors while creating new ones we don't necessarily want. Right, so instead of water, we'll go with oil, olive oil. And as for a heat source ... Hey. Hey. Wait, wait, wait a minute.
[at the outdoor grill] You know, I've never fired the grill for a cabbage before, but it kind of makes sense. Especially if you don't care for the aroma of brassicas in the kitchen. So I'm going to go with medium heat here. After all, we're not exactly searing a T-bone. And while this warms up, I think we should warm up the sprouts, as well.
[at the microwave] Prep one pound of sprouts, trimming the
stem ends and removing only yellow outer leaves. Now if you've got really big,
honking Brussels sprouts, you'll have to cut them in half. But these are pretty
small, so I'm going to leave them whole. Just make sure they're as uniform as
possible. Place in a large microwave-safe mixing bowl, and zap on high for three
[three minutes later] Now let these cool for a few minutes before continuing.
|1 Pound Brussels Sprouts|
|As for the paste, we will whisk together one teaspoon of dry mustard powder. And I think maybe some paprika would be nice—a teaspoon, smoked, if you've got it. A tablespoon of minced garlic. There that goes, two tablespoons of olive oil will be about enough, and of course, salt and pepper. One teaspoon of the first and a quarter teaspoon of the second.||
1 tsp. Dry Mustard Powder
1 tsp. Smoked Paprika
1 Tbs. Minced Garlic
2 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 tsp. Kosher Salt +
¼ tsp. Freshly Ground Black
Once that is together, grab your favorite metal skewers, thread five orbs on each one leaving at least an inch of space, dab on the goodness, ...
... and bring those to a medium-hot grill. You're going to let those cook for about five minutes, and then turn a quarter turn. Repeat and turn, repeat and turn, until they're golden brown and delicious all the way around.
Grind on plenty of black pepper and serve hot, right on the skewer. I'm telling you, you can't get more sprouty than this. It's like, well, the taste of Brussels without the jet lag.
S: Oh, that's a fantastic tagline, buddy boy.
S: Oh, I'm telling you, AB, this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
AB: Or perhaps just the ending of another Good Eats. [aims his skewer at Sid]
S: Oh, you wouldn't.
Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger
Last Edited on 08/27/2010