Sunday, December 15, 2013

Brussels Sprouts: Yet Another Reason to Buy Local


As some of you may know I'm an avid vegetable eater.  I looooove my veggies.  Always have.  Always will.  However, I have one veggie that so far I have been unable to enjoy. 
The Brussels sprout. 
Oh my.  They are awful things.  Little tiny bitter cabbages that seem to retain their caustic bitterness no matter what I do to them.  I really want to like them.  They are supposedly very good for you but I just can't get past their horrible reaction in my mouth.  I have literally tried everything I know to enjoy the Brussels sprout.  I have even fried them in bacon fat.  BACON FAT!!!  That is when I gave up.  If I can't make them even approach a tolerable level through bacon fat then perhaps this veggie just wasn't meant to be.  I walked away from that dysfunctional relationship and I wasn't the better for it.
So imagine my surprise when I saw that Matt and I were given a bag of Brussels sprouts in our CSA this month.  "Ugh!", was all that I said.  It was like seeing your ex after a really bad breakup.
It's no surprise that I hate waste, so naturally I wasn't going to throw them away.  I wasn't going to give them away either.  Oddly, some little tiny voice way in the back of my head told me that these might just be different.  Something had changed.  But what was it? 
Location.  Location.  Location.
These sprouts were locally sourced and the others ones weren't.  I bought them like most people did.  In the grocery store.  Perhaps these sprouts were being too harshly judged from my previous bad experiences.  Then I started to remember some characteristics of brussel sprouts that might explain why they had never worked for me in the past.  Here are some reasons why I thought these local sprouts might be better.
Brussels sprouts:
  • Hate to travel. 
    They don't age well on the road and are particularly fussy once picked.  Like most veggies and fruits in order to get them to the grocery store they have to be picked earlier than normal.  You just cannot pick Brussels sprouts before their appointed time.  They get bitter very quickly.
  • Grow the best in colder climates.
    Around here most of the grocery store sprouts grow in California.  In case you haven't heard it's usually pretty warm there.  Brussels sprouts get bitter in the heat and sweeter in the cold.  Around here they can even withstand a mild winter.  If it's cold in your area and you get local sprouts they will be sweet and not bitter and therefore taste FAR better.
  • Taste the best when their natural sugars are caramelized. 
    Some people roast them in the oven with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Others use bacon fat and sauté them in a pan over medium high heat.  Whatever you do make sure at least one side gets lovingly browned.  That's the caramelization.  That's the good stuff. 
  • Are fussy!!!
    You can't just throw those suckers into the oven or pan.  Sprouts require tending. 
    Peel off the tough or discolored leaves.  Trim the ends especially if brown.  Soak them in a large bowl of cool water, scoop them out and let dry.  Then slice them in half.  Now they are ready for cooking.  Feel like skipping these steps?  Get ready for bitter nastiness.  They will taste a lot better when handled properly.
  • Go with just about anything
    Put them over pasta with that extra bacon.  Eat them as an accompaniment to roast chicken or grilled lamb.  Whatever.  They will go nicely with most main courses.
So the next time you see Brussels sprouts in your CSA, a farm stand or better yet the Farmer's Market.  Give them a second chance.  They might just surprise you. 

Here's how Matt made them.  I was understandably skittish and carefully observed with a nice glass of wine.

Matt's Brussels Sprouts
  • 1 1/2 lbs. of Brussels sprouts
  • 1/3 cup finely diced pancetta or bacon
  • 1 tbsp. butter (I prefer cultured butter)
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
Peel off tough or discolored outer leaves of all the sprouts.  Trim the ends of each sprout while still leaving it intact.  Soak in a large bowl of cool water and let dry.  Then slice in half.  Try to make sure that all sprouts are of similar size.  Larger ones might need to be cut in fourths or thirds depending upon desired size.  Leave the root intact otherwise the sprout will fall apart. 

Meanwhile melt the butter in a 12 to 14 inch sauté pan and add the pancetta.  Keep the heat medium low and fully render the fat from the pancetta.  Once the pancetta is crispy add the Brussels sprouts cut side down.  Turn heat up to medium high.  Once sprouts are browned on one side (6-7 minutes) turn them over and place lid on top of the pan.  Cook for a few minutes longer and add pepper to taste.  Serve immediately.

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