How did Brussels sprouts become the butt of so many jokes?
Salad, soup, mash, Mornay, and as a love token. Here’s how to make the most of the little green globes
’Tis the season . . . to eat Brussels sprouts
Where did it all go wrong? How did Brussels sprouts become the butt of so many jokes? Could it be the sulphuric smell that often trails in their wake, or their palate jarring bitter taste? Whatever the reason, the seasonal green polarises opinion – we either love them or hate them, it seems.
As a love token, they are an unusual choice, but Paul Flynn, chef-patron of the Tannery restaurant in Dungarvan, Co Waterford once drove 15 miles on Christmas day to deliver some to his sprout-loving future wife, Máire, whose family didn’t share her enthusiasm for them. Imagine that. No wonder she married him.
Being cruciferous vegetables, the green globes release hydrogen sulfide as they cook. This is the culprit behind the distinctive odour – and the best way to avoid that is to cook them briefly, if at all. Steam them lightly or sauté them in a hot pan. Or you could roast them for a short time in a very hot oven to get that charred effect that is so popular these days with their big brother, the cabbage.
I used to make a sprout side dish that involved steaming them, then mixing them in crème fraiche and grain mustard, and topping with roasted hazelnuts. It was tasty, but it didn’t taste much of sprouts – perhaps that was the intention. These days, I buy only the tiniest baby specimens and cook them in butter and a splash of water. They taste intensely of sprout, but in a good way.
When buying sprouts, vegetable growing consultant Dermot Carey recommends searching for the ones sold on the stalk, which you sometimes see at this time of year. “Sprouts on the stalk do not dry out as quickly. They are also much easier to harvest. I remember hand picking sprouts for Christmas as a teenager. It must have been the coldest job on the farm. Better to pick individual sprouts in the comfort of a kitchen, rather than a cold and frosty field.”
Standing the stalks, which you have trimmed at the base, in cold water, will keep them as fresh as possible until it is time to cook them.
In an attempt to popularise the seasonal delicacy, a fish and chip stall at a market in Norwich in the UK has taken to dipping them in batter and selling them deep fried, tossed in salt and vinegar. You needn’t go that far to stop people pushing them around their dinner plates, however. Here are a few suggestions to put a sizzle in your sprouts and find a role for the mini cabbages beyond December 25th, gleaned from the Irish Times recipe archive and beyond.
Shredded raw sprouts (if you have a mandolin, now is the time to drag it out of its box) are a good addition to winter salads. Try them mixed with dried cranberries, chopped roasted walnuts and diced apple, in a citrus dressing.
For something with more of a umami kick try this one from chef and Irish Times magazine columnist Jess Murphy, which puts an Asian slant on sprout salad with the addition of sesame oil, miso and rice vinegar. There is tahini and kimchi, in there too, for a complete flavour bomb.
If the weather suggests a warming bowl of something comforting, rather than salad, you could try this lovely recipe from Delia Smith, which combines leeks, potatoes and sprouts in a silky, creamy Soupe Flamande. “So creamy and subtle is it that even determined sprout haters have been known to succumb to its charms,” she writes.
Chef Gary O’Hanlon, who can always be relied upon for a cheffy flourish, goes the whole hog with this Brussels sprouts, smoked bacon and onion Mornay with truffled Parmesan crust. He bills it as a side dish, but we reckon it is a meal in itself.
If the worst should happen and you slightly overcook the sprouts, pretend it was intentional and turn them into this sprout mash. In the method, chef Andrew Rudd says to cook the sprouts for 10 minutes, but if you’ve left them go a bit further, we reckon the addition of butter and cream, as he instructs, will still result in a tasty mash.
Back to Paul Flynn and his winning ways with sprouts. His recipe has an unusual ingredient, Cidona. When you think about it, it makes sense, the sweetness of the drink tempering the vegetable’s bitterness. It’s an oldie but a goodie. Wind the internet back to 2005, and here it is.
If you want to invent a sprout recipe of your own, let your imagination run riot, as chef Flynn must have done when he came up with that one. The little green globes are are good friends with butter, bacon, chestnuts, soya sauce, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and mustard. Just not all at once.
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