I actually do like Brussels sprouts despite the attached video!
Many people despise them though. So it seemed funny to me to present them as everyone’s worst nightmare. People are afraid of them because they are often prepared in a horrible manner…boiled.
This is because they are technically a cruciferous vegetable. Which is a fancy way of saying cabbage. As we all know, boiled cabbage can be stinky and mushy. So too, Brussels sprouts. In fact, in French, they are called les choux de Bruxelles, which means cabbages of Brussels. So all the mistakes people make cooking cabbage can be amplified in these “little cabbages”!
Cruciferous vegetables get their name because their flowers have 4 petals and look like a cross (crucifix). Other cruciferous vegetables include arugula, bok choy, broccoli, collards, kale, mustard greens, rutabaga, turnip greens, and watercress… now doesn’t this list look a lot like the list your doctor uses when he/she says you should eat more dark, leafy greens?
Well, listen to your doctor because cruciferous veggies all contain phytochemicals — vitamins and minerals, and lots of healthy fiber which some studies suggest lower your risk of cancer!
Unfortunately, these phytochemicals break down somewhat in cooking. This lessens their health benefits, and can also release a vile “sulfur” smell. Many people can’t get past the smell.
It does not have to be that way. There are lots of great ways to cook Brussels sprouts. One of the simplest is also one of the tastiest! I like to toss them with a little olive oil, coarse salt, and cracked black pepper. I then roast them in a 400-degree oven til they get browned and crackly. A hot oven ensures you’ll get good caramelization on the outside with out cooking the insides to a smelly pulp!
But my favorite ways is to braise or glaze them. You can keep a good texture this way and also build up a nuanced palate of flavors. And it’s really pretty!
In this video, I am making Brussels sprouts braized in a balsamic/chicken broth. It’s similar to an old French country technique done with artichokes called a barigoule.
The artichoke version does not include the balsamic I added that because it is such a perfect flavor pairing with the sprouts (and of course pancetta). It’s sweet. It’s savory. It’s salty. It works.
I also like to brown the sprouts fairly dark before I begin the braising because I want to get caramelization, but I don’t want to overcook them.
By calling this technique braising, I do not want to give you the impression that they need to cook for hours like braised meat.
The process is really more of a glazing! You can do it with almost any vegetable, but it’s particularly suited to root vegetables (you know what those are, so I won’t list them here).
The key to getting a good glazing is to start with vegetables that are uniform in size. Brussels sprouts are such a vegetable by nature, but if you do this with other vegetables cut them into like-sized chunks.
The next step is to add about 1 inch of braising liquid to the pan with your veggies. The composition of the liquid is important. It should have some fats in it so that it can thicken a bit as it cooks.
Butter is always good in generic vegetable glazing. In this recipe, I use a combination of rendered pancetta fat and chicken broth. I add the balsamic for flavor. It may seem like a lot of balsamic, but trust me, in combination with the other ingredients…it mellows!
Cooking times will vary depending on the veggies, but your goal is to reduce the sauce until the veggies are shiny and flavorful, but not overcooked. I have been known to remove the vegetable one piece at a time when I think they are done just right. You don’t need to be as crazy as me though!
These are quite good served hot or room temperature, but refrigerating and re-heating affects the texture some. So I leave that decision to you.
The toasted breadcrumbs are a nice Sicilian touch. They add another level of texture and it’s a good way to add some contrast of flavor as well. The braised sprouts are fairly consistent in flavor and texture. The breadcrumbs can be as flavorful as you like. I’ve done it with lots of garlic too. Anyway, it’s just a great counterpoint the veggies.
I hope I have not confused you. I realize I am talking about braising vegetables in general as well as braising Brussels sprouts particularly in pancetta and balsamic (all at the same time). It’s up to you to root through what I’ve written and apply the technique to your own veggies. Because that’s what good cooking is all about anyway!
SERIOUS FUN FOOD