Autumn’s shining star is Brussels sprouts: How to choose, store, season and cook the versatile vegetable
By G. Daniela Galarza
Gardeners and farmers market regulars will know the surprising, wondrous way Brussels sprouts look before they're harvested: They bud atop the long leafed branches of a thick, almost two-foot-tall stalk.
Nestled between stalk and branch, each sprout grows to between half an inch and just shy of two inches in diameter. Once harvested, the doll-size cabbages can be sold still attached to their stalks or, more commonly, in bags or cartons, ready for trimming and cooking.
Though they're miniature cabbages, they're not as sturdy as the larger variety, and benefit from more gentle care. Because they're similarly bite-size, it's tempting to treat Brussels sprouts like green beans or baby carrots, but they're nothing alike when it comes to taste.
Here's how to pick and prepare them, whether you plan to serve them at a holiday feast or for a weeknight dinner.
If buying a whole stalk, check the spaces between the sprouts and the stalk for mould or dampness. On or off the stalk, look for sprouts that are compact, with tight leaves. You'll be able to tell how freshly cut sprouts are by examining the stem end: It should look dry, but not brown or, worse, mouldy.
Chef, culinary activist and author Preeti Mistry notes that if you buy them on the stalk, you can keep them in a dry, cool place for a few days without having to refrigerate them. Once off the stalk, you'll want to keep them in the fridge.
To freeze, we suggest blanching washed and trimmed sprouts in boiling water for three to five minutes, depending on size, chilling on ice, draining and allowing to dry completely before freezing in bags or containers. Sprouts can then be seasoned and cooked right out of the freezer.
Like many other members of the cabbage family, Brussels sprouts can be eaten raw, shredded and dressed or marinated, especially when very fresh. If you're buying them from the grocery store, or you know they're more than a few days old, cooking - blanching, steaming, roasting, grilling or sautéing - will help temper some of their strong flavours.
Halved sprouts can be tossed in oil, salt and pepper and roasted until browned. Cutting a small crosshatch into the trimmed ends before steaming or blanching helps so that their firm cores cook more quickly.
Steamed sprout petals can be added to soups as a garnish; add blanched, quartered or halved sprouts to soups or stews in the final few minutes of cooking. Overcooking them tends to render them mushy and brings out their acrid flavours and smells.
To speed up the cooking process, you could cut them in half and then slice them into thinner pieces before sautéing quickly. They'll cook evenly in one pan, and can get crispy over high heat, though they'll lose the varied texture they retain when cooked in larger pieces.
Some prefer their sprouts seasoned simply with salt and pepper, but the vegetable's strong flavours mean they pair well with stronger or complementary seasonings and sauces.