Brussels sprouts are well known (apparently) as being the worst food ever forced upon children and mankind in general. I grew up with the understanding that these little guys represented everything that is wrong with the vegetable kingdom (and the cruel moms who force their children to experience it). I was secretly relieved that I made it through my own childhood unscathed, since somehow brussels sprouts didn’t hit the menu any time that I can remember. I suspect that may have to do with brussels-related trauma experienced by my parents when they were kids.
So you can imagine my surprise when I tried brussels sprouts a few years ago for the first time ever, and they actually tasted really good. Rather than collapsing into a delirium of nausea and regret like I anticipated, I enjoyed a nice meal of tender, dense little cabbage-like buds and moved on with my life a little more complete. In fact, brussels sprouts have since risen to a pretty high ranking on my list of favorite vegetables, and I grab them whenever they’re cheap at the store.
Okay, so what can you do with them? Well, to start, apparently the thing not to do is to boil them until they’re mush and your house smells funny. Who knows why that was even an option, but that kind of bad practice may have a lot to do with all the traumatized children.
What you can do is lots of things, many of which are delicious. I was ecstatic the day I brought home my sprouts from the store, because my afternoon rerun of Good Eats turned out to be all about them. I usually interpret that kind of thing as karma for making the right choice at the grocery store or something. Anyway, I learned a bunch of ways to make them, but today we’ll stick with the basics.
Brussels sprouts are one of those foods that perform pretty well on their own if you treat them right. Although they’re not really fans of the hot tub, they love roasting and searing. Give your sprouts some color and caramelization and they won’t stop thanking you (and by “thanking” I mean “being eaten by”). You can do this either by roasting in the oven with a little oil, or sauteeing in a heavy pan like I did this time. It might not technically be roasting to do it this way, but the result is pretty much the same.
I chose to quarter the sprouts so they’d cook more evenly. If you’d rather leave them whole, it’s probably better to blanch them briefly before cooking, just to give them a head start on the process.
Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Reduction Recipe
1 lb brussels sprouts
a little oil for cooking
salt and pepper
1/2 to 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp honey
Fill a bowl with water and soak the sprouts for a few minutes to get particulates out of the leaves. Remove any outer leaves that are discolored or wilted, and trim the very bottom of the stem. Don’t do that “x” thing, if you know what that is.
Cut the brussels sprouts in half lengthwise, then again to make wedges.
Heat a heavy cast iron skillet (or whatever you have) to medium-high heat. When hot, oil the pan lightly and add the sprouts all at once.
Don’t stir too much. Let each side get some love and color from the pan before moving anything around. Continue to cook until the sprouts are pretty evenly cooked and fairly soft.
Meanwhile, the reduction. Bring a small saucepan to low heat and add a small amount of butter, if desired. Add the vinegar and simmer very gently until reduced by half. Remove from heat and stir in the honey.
Serve the sprouts with the reduction on the side or mixed in. Enjoy vindicating the innocence of a childhood enemy.
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