Second Chances: Brussels sprouts, it turns out, are not inherently disgusting.
Thursday, May 5, 2005
When I was in the third grade, I switched to a new school. It took less than a day to identify the class scratching post. I never understood why he was designated as the one to bully, and I became friends with him.
One day his Chinese mom took us to Chinatown, a trip that turned out to be a formative event in my development. My mind was blown by the strange and exotic happenings in the cramped cafés, open-air markets and other culinary nooks and crannies.
At about the same time, I noticed another victim of the cruelty of children. Like my poor friend in third grade, Brussels sprouts were widely considered to suck. Again, this awareness did not result from any personal negative encounters, but from the passive persuasion of hearing other kids announce their disgust. Despite their bad reputation, I never had a problem with Brussels sprouts, though I never went out of my way for them either.
The first time I really noticed them was at a Thanksgiving celebration at an Idaho farm. I was able to look up from my plate, which was laden with buttered Brussels sprouts, and gaze out the window into the fields, where Brussels sprouts plants poked out of the snow. They still bore sprouts on the stalks, sweetened by the frosts of autumn.
Last year, I finally planted some, hoping for my own crop of winter greens. Everything went according to plan and my Brussels sprouts stood green and strong long after the rest of the garden had withered. In November and December I ate of my Brussels sprouts, and it was good.
I had to go away for a few months, and I abandoned half my crop. But when I returned in March there they were, standing proud and still bearing sprouts, ever so happy to see me. A fully loaded rack of sprouts is an impressive sight, and I was happy to see them, too.
Even in the colder parts of the country, it’s normal to harvest Brussels sprouts into January. In Monterey County, you can count on overwintering your sprouts. In fact, California’s “Fog Belt” rivals New York’s Long Island as the Brussels sprouts capital of America, although overwintering isn’t done on a commercial scale. But if you, home gardener, want to maximize your homegrown overwintering Brussels sprouts potential, now is the time to swing into action.
Both Johnny’s seed catalog (www.johnnyseeds.com) and
Catalpa Tree Seed Company (accessible through the very cool
www.localharvest.org) offer good seeds and speedy
Here are some highlights from recipe trials with my
Baked sprouts with prosciutto:
Wash and trim 1 pound Brussels sprouts, cutting the large ones in half. Toss them with 2 ounces prosciutto (or substitute bacon), 2 cloves minced garlic and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Put them in a baking pan with 1/4 cup chicken stock, and bake at 450º until neon green (and until the bacon is cooked…)
Cardamom Brussels sprouts:
(This one is a hit with the ladies for some reason. Maybe it’s because they dig cardamom.)
Toast 1/4 cup slivered almonds in a dry pan until they are golden, and set aside. Wash 1 pound Brussels sprouts, cut off the bottoms, and chop them into quarters. Steam until neon green (as opposed to the overcooked shades of sea green, puke green, snot green or military green). In a bowl, mix 1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder, your toasted almonds, a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Toss the steamed Brussels sprouts in this sauce and serve.
Chef Boy Ari’s Half-Chinese Brussels sprouts:
Fry a slice of bacon, chopped, in a pan. When it’s half-cooked, add 2 cups of thinly sliced Brussels sprouts. It’s amazing how much volume the compact sprouts release when chopped! While that’s cooking, mix together 1/8 cup rice vinegar, 2.5 teaspoons sugar, 1 tablespoon grated ginger, 1 teaspoon sesame oil and 3 tablespoons soy sauce. When the sugar dissolves, stir in 2 tablespoons oyster sauce and set aside. When the Brussels sprouts get neon green, kill the heat and stir in the sauce.