Thursday, October 29, 2009

Savez-vous plantez des choux?

No, that isn't a big pile of cabbages, it's actually a small bunch of Brussel sprouts. Ooooh! I can hear the groaning from here! The poor Brussel sprouts have got a bad rap. Just the other day a friend of mine declared she hated them and would never eat them ever again... Harsh! On the other hand, a week earlier, another friend claimed that he actually enjoyed the sprouts his mother served him as a child! However, the general consensus is that Brussel sprouts are not an easy vegetable to like.

Which is very unfortunate, because they are at their best from now until spring. Truly, Brussel sprouts can be a fine vegetable if some care is taken in its preparation.

First of all, you should only buy locally grown sprouts (for real!!! This applies to all vegetables whenever possible, but it is especially true with sprouts.) Secondly, you should wait until hard frosts have hit your area -which is why you should buy local sprouts only. If you live in a frost free area -i.e. a winter-free area- then I suggest you stick to frozen Brussel sprouts. One of the reasons why so many people dislike Brussel sprouts is because they are very gas inducing and can cause other digestive discomforts, more so than any other cabbage. Frost and freezing can help alleviate this problem by breaking down the sulfurous compounds in the sprouts (these are the same chemicals that give mustard its kick). It also sweetens the sprouts and softens its tough fibres, another potential cause for gassiness.

Brussel sprouts are a marvel of the cabbage family: unlike its cousins, the sprout is totally impervious to the cold. In areas not plagued by huge amounts of snow in the winter, Brussels sprouts are left in the ground all season long, to be harvested only as needed, under a mantle of snow.

Another trick for minimizing sprout discomfort is to start slowly: pretend you are a baby having his first taste of solids. Eat a little at first, and slowly build up the portion. Your stomach will gradually get used to them, and you will discover that sprouts are actually quite tasty!

Of all the cabbages, I find the Brussel sprout most scrumptious cooked. I'm not too keen on cabbage rolls, and boiled cabbage just doesn't do it for me, but boiled and buttered sprouts are really yummy! Timing, however, is of the utmost importance: the other reason most people hate sprouts is because our parents often cooked them down to a mush. Yuck!

While most vegetables should be cooked until they are easily pierced with a pointy knife and slip off said knife, sprouts are done when they can be speared but do not fall off the knife. This can be achieved by cutting any sprout bigger than a ping-pong ball in two, then boiling or steaming the sprouts. If you absolutely want to keep your sprouts whole, it is best to score the stem crosswise with the tip of your knife and boil them. Plunge them in an ice bath to stop them from cooking further.

Once you've got your prepped sprouts, the sky's the limit! Chop some bacon into 1cm (½ inch) pieces and fry until crisp, add the Brussel sprouts, and voilà! You can add boiled and peeled chestnuts (it's the season for those too, if they grow in your area!), and you've got the traditional British side dish for roast goose. If you are a vegetarian or do not eat pork, but would like a similar dish: melt some butter in a frying pan, add slivered almonds and toast until golden, throw in the sprouts. You can also add some smoked salt to get a hint of smokeyness, or use hickory smoked almonds.

(Smoked salt is ridiculously expensive, but it is really tasty, and you only use a bit for flavouring, NOT for seasoning. It is easier to find than liquid smoke, and since you are only using a pinch, it is probably less hazardous for your health. If, however, smoked salt is too pricey or difficult to find -it's available in specialty groceries and fancy food stores- you can always smoke your own salt in your barbecue. Throw in a side of salmon, or some baby back ribs to make it worth your while.)

Give Brussel sprouts a chance!

Bon app'!


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