Cooking Brussel Sprouts
The number of stories we hear in the restaurant about people’s horrific experiences eating brussel sprouts in their youth are almost innumerable. Grey, bitter, pungent, stinky and just generally errgggh are some of the common descriptors that people express. There is almost a sense of trauma as the memories flood back of being force fed these inedible morsels by what sounds like dictatorial parents on a torture rampage.
I was by no means spared from this and most certainly shared a great dislike of this vegetable in my youth. I know now that it was simply a lack of understanding of how to cook them that was to blame. In our house all the evening’s vegetables would commonly be placed in the steamer at the same time with their length of cooking being determined by the period required to cook the potatoes. We would do almost anything to avoid having to put these little balls of horror into our mouths.
My views of this vegetable changed when I was taken to a small Elizabeth St restaurant in Hobart called Mit Zitrone by my food passionate aunt and uncle. It was nothing more than a side dish of brussel sprouts with speck, but it changed my whole perspective on this ingredient. How could brussel sprouts taste sweet, savoury and alive all at the same time? How could they pair in with the salty, umami taste of the speck yet hold such an individual character all their own? How could my most hated vegetable now be the highlight of this culinary experience?
I went on to learn several valuable lessons regarding cooking vegetables following this experience, including that all vegetables cook at vastly varying times, something I am still to convince my mother of. The Brassica family which includes brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage etc, have a particular requirement of not being overcooked. They contain compounds called glucosinolates which have a tendency to release a large amount of sulphur when overcooked, hence the very common aversion to grey and smelly overcooked sprouts. The simple solution…don’t overcook your brussel sprouts.
We have used brussel sprouts in a variety of ways on our menu, pairing them with speck or bacon, nuts including hazelnut and walnuts, sourdough crumb and a variety of purees including white bean, cauliflower and parsnip. They are such a versatile winter ingredient but the one underlying rule we maintain is how we cook them. We blanch to reduce the bitterness and them roast to bring out the sweetness. And never, never overcook.
Honey roasted Brussel sprouts with parsnip puree and hazelnuts
½ kg Brussel sprouts,
50g roasted and crushed hazelnuts
500g parsnips, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
To make the parsnip puree, blanch off the parsnips until tender and then strain thoroughly. Place in a pan with the cream and butter and heat until the cream boils and the butter melts. Then puree with a hand blender, seasoning with lots of salt and pepper to taste.
Blanch the brussel sprout by pouring boiling water over them and leaving for 2 min. Refresh them in ice cold water for 60 sec and then spin dry in a salad spinner Toss the brussel sprouts in a little oil, lots of rock salt and the honey, and roast on a very high temperature until they are golden and slightly crispy, about 8-10 mins. Spread the parsnip puree on your serving plate and top with the brussel sprouts and hazelnuts.