Beyond Awesome Brussels Sprouts: A Creative Technique Breathes New Life into the Humble Sprout
Fall is here and it’s time to embrace seasonal veggies like Brussels sprouts. Unfortunately, problems with cooking these tiny cabbages are myriad: they’re soggy, the outside is overdone while the inside is underdone, or they wind up with a nasty sulfur smell when overcooked. And no one wants to eat that for the sake of being healthy. Luckily, there’s a new way to make Brussels sprouts that’s full of flavor and says goodbye to previous disappointing versions.
I’ve tried different methods of cooking Brussels sprouts over the years but was never that jazzed about any of these. So, I was excited when my husband caught a very interesting Brussels sprouts recipe on PBS recently. In an episode of Bringing It Home, Chef Emily Sarlatte of Berkeley’s La Marcha cooked Brussels Sprouts with Brown Butter.
What’s unique about this recipe is that you peel the leaves from the tightly packed sprouts instead of trying to cook them whole (or even halved or quartered). With just the leaves to cook – instead of the sprouts – it’s much easier to cook them evenly and avoid overcooking them. Plus, this recipe is beyond awesome since it uses brown butter, fancy air-cured ham, and toasted pistachios. Doesn’t that sound much better than those soggy Brussels sprouts you had at Thanksgiving last year?
I made this recipe twice – in part because I was left with so much browned butter and unused Brussels sprouts after the first go-round. Therefore, I recommend the following modifications to this recipe:
Sprouts to butter ratio: Either double (or even triple) the amount of Brussels sprouts or halve the amount of butter.
Which ham to use: Serrano ham (from Spain) is a lovely air-cured ham, but it’s expensive and hard to find. On the other hand, Prosciutto di Parma (from Italy) is readily available and less expensive. You can find it at Costco, Trader Joe’s, and more (but Costco is likely the best deal). See here for more information on what package to look for at the store. The recipe calls for 2 slices but I used 3 (slices of prosciutto). You may want to increase the amount of prosciutto if you are cooking much more than 4 cups of Brussels sprouts leaves (see note above for #1). Also, add a bit of oil to the pain when crisping the prosciutto.
Dried fruit: while cranberries provide a lot of color, I didn’t have any on hand. Since I already had sultanas (golden raisins), I used these. Lately, I’ve been trying to use up dry ingredients I have in my kitchen before buying new things. On that note, you may notice that I’m making some substitutions. It’s more economical and better for the environment when you use up what you already have. (And as I say this, I’m actively working on what to do with a 3-pound bag of garlic and huge bags of lemons and limes from Costco – stay tuned!)
Order of operations: I found both the instructions on the Bringing It Home website and the video very confusing. To reduce confusion, I’ll lay out the sequence for you here. Start out by toasting the nuts. Let them cool on a cutting board. Then crisp the ham – make sure to heat oil in the pan before adding the ham. Let it cool in a cutting board. When nuts are cool, coarsely chop them. When the prosciutto is cool, roughly chop it. You will need 2 separate pans: one to make the browned butter sauce, another to make the sprouts. Once you’ve got your pans lined up, follow the instructions for making the browned butter – and see my notes below about this. Then cook the sprouts –very lightly -- in another plan with a bit of olive oil; this will go very quickly. Once the sprouts are very lightly cooked, add the dried fruit in order to warm and soften it. Then pour the brown butter over the sprouts and dried fruit in their skillet. Toss to coat. Then plate the brown butter sprouts and dried fruit mixture. Top each serving with crispy prosciutto and toasted pistachios and pair with lemon slices on the side. Enjoy!
Brussels sprouts: When you get to the point where it’s really hard to peel the leaves of the sprouts, just slice the sprouts into thin coin-like rounds.
Brown butter sauce: Be careful here! You want to take the browned butter off the heat as soon as it turns golden brown, giving the butter a wonderful nutty taste. Also, this happens really quickly, so stay focused on the task at hand. For tips on how to make brown butter, see this info from Simply Recipes here; for tips on how to salvage overly browned butter – you don’t have to start with fresh butter sticks! – see this short video from Martha Stewart and friends. Also, use a high-quality balsamic vinegar when making the brown butter sauce; I love the one that Metropolitan Market sells under their private label (and it makes wonder vinaigrettes for salads too).
While this dish takes more time and effort than steaming or roasting veggies, it’s really a showcase dish with amazing flavors! And the brown butter is so good! This could even be a fun dish to bring to Thanksgiving.
Here’s to fall and eating lots of vegetables. Happy cooking!