Brussels Sprouts: The Right Way to Cook Them
Firstly, Brussels Sprouts are not just for Christmas: they are a useful autumn and winter vegetable, and are widely available. Secondly, Brussels Sprouts get a bad press. Cooked incorrectly, they are limp, soggy and smell of sulphur; hardly the most attractive addition to any meal. However, it is very easy to cook Brussels Sprouts the right way, so they retain bite and develop a delicious nutty flavour.
The method I’m recommending uses the professional chef’s technique known as “refreshing,” which can also be used in the preparation of many other vegetables. Not only does it take the hassle out of your timings, as the main cooking is done well in advance at your convenience, but it also preserves the colour, flavour and texture of your veg to perfection.
Note that I do the initial cooking of the Brussels Sprouts (and most of my other vegetables) in UNSALTED water. I prefer to add salt either at the final cooking, at the table, or not at all. I have done numerous tests over the years, and believe that the presence or not of salt makes no difference to the colour. To get a pleasing saltiness into the vegetable needs so much salt in the cooking water that it is both wasteful and uneconomical. Far better to add whatever salt you need later, when it will be far more effective.
Buying Brussels Sprouts: Quantity Guide
You will lose around 10 percent of the vegetable in the trimming, so buy a little more of the raw, unprepared weight than you will need per portion, which will of course depend on your appetite and what other vegetables you are serving.
Cooking Brussels Sprouts: Method – Pre-Cooking and Refreshing
Cut any stalk away from the sprout, and remove any loose or discoloured outer leaves. If the sprouts are large, cut a cross into the stalk end, which will help the heat penetrate, keeping the cooking time down and therefore leading to a perfectly cooked and non-soggy sprout. (I suppose I should say here that some cooks and chefs completely disagree, and claim that the cut cross is MORE likely to lead to soggy sprouts!)
Bring a large pan of unsalted water to the boil, plunge in the Brussels, return to the boil then reduce the heat to a busy simmer – the sprouts should be able to cook fairly quickly, but not so agitated that they bash about in the water, thus loosening too many of the outer leaves.
After around three minutes (depending on the size of your sprouts) take one out of the water, cut in half and test for done-ness. The tip of a sharp knife should penetrate reasonably easily, and/or the Brussels should be cooked through and piping hot in the middle, but still firm to the bite (al dente). If not ready, continue to cook and test in two minute cycles until done.
As soon as the Brussels Sprouts are cooked to your liking (or preferably a fraction undercooked) strain the veg, and run under the tap until quite cold. This prevents them from any further cooking due to residual heat, and preserves the maximum flavour, texture and colour. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Cooking Brussels Sprouts: Method – Reheating and/or Second Cooking
The two simplest methods to reheat your Brussels Sprouts (and any other vegetables you have prepared using the pre-cook/refresh method) are to either plunge them into a large pan of boiling water for a minute or two, or microwave, moistened with a splash of water and covered in kitchen film, also for a minute or two, until piping hot.
The method I prefer, which really brings out the nutty flavour of the sprouts, is only a little more complicated. Put a good knob of butter and a tablespoon of water, along with a generous seasoning of salt and freshly ground black pepper onto a medium to high heat. Once the butter is foaming, but before it begins to brown, tip in the Sprouts, continuing to shake and agitate the pan so the vegetables are well coated in the seasoned butter. The small amount of water generates steam, which helps the Brussels reheat, and also helps to stop the butter burning. Serve immediately the Brussels Sprouts develop a few golden brown patches and produce a wonderful nutty aroma, which takes a couple of minutes.
To really bring out the nuttiness, you can also add a few pinches of flaked almonds to the pan – be very careful not to let them burn.