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Sunday Column: Brussels Sprouts Redux

400px-Brussels_sprout_closeupMy Sunday Column grew out of a post on this blog about a superlative brussels sprouts dish I tried in a Los Angeles restaurant.

Here’s my theory of brussels sprouts: People eat them on Thanksgiving as a kind of Puritan penance. At least, that’s what I think happened in our house.

Preparing the brussels sprouts required the kind of coordinated joint effort usually reserved for a pig killing. My father and all the able-bodied men performed the annual chestnut-peeling ordeal — an event that involved much swearing, arguing over technique and finger pricking until a scant handful of crumbly bits was produced.

Meanwhile, my mother would trim and carefully mark each brussels sprout heel with a talismanic X so they would “cook properly.” This meant boiling them for the entire duration of the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade until they resembled not vegetables so much as eyeballs wrenched from the sockets of decomposing zombies.

The chestnut bits and slimy green scleras were then mixed in a bowl without butter or salt and declared perfect. This wasn’t a side dish as much as proof of absolute evil in the universe.

Being the kind of person who naturally likes all vegetables, even unfortunate ones like bitter melon and okra, I learned to make my peace with brussels sprouts. Boiling them whole wasn’t the way to go, but then about 15 years ago I encountered a recipe for hashed sprouts that required a whole lot of careful slivering and then a sizzling denouement in a hot skillet. It was tasty, though the sulfurous, cabbagey smell rising from the pan would be enough to knock a buzzard off of a platter of deviled eggs.

So I began ignoring brussels sprouts as best I could. Alas, they didn’t ignore me. Lately they have started showing up, halved and caramelized, on menus all over town. Jay Swift at 4th and Swift paired these crisp hemispheres with apples, pistachios, creme fraiche and cider reduction for a startling mouthful. Can something both sweet and cruciferous be delicious? Yes, indeed.

Like Swift, Todd Ginsberg at Bocado believes that his halved mini-heads deserve center court as a stand-alone appetizer rather than being relegated to the nether regions of the Thanksgiving buffet. You know what? He’s right. Thyme, lemon, Parmesan, capers — in Ginsberg’s kitchen they’re a sprout’s best friend.

Craig Richards at La Tavola claims he goes through 10 pounds a day of his popular brussels sprouts, which are halved, natch, then roasted with pancetta and butter. “The key, ” he says, “is cooking them thoroughly so that they’re soft and not as bitter” yet at a high enough heat to bring out their color and sweetness.

I have to say, though, the best version I have ever tried was during a recent trip to Los Angeles for a family get-together. We ended up at Gjelina restaurant in Venice, where the house specialty was charred brussels sprouts with bacon, dates and vinegar. Our waiter talked us into the first plate (thereby ensuring himself a spot in heaven) and didn’t act at all surprised when we ordered a second, and then a third.

Here is a recipe I devised that gets close to the original. By the way, I stole the brussels sprout charring technique wholesale from the great food blog, 101 Cookbooks. Cooking the brussels sprouts through in a covered skillet, then turning up the heat to char the surface, ensures that amazing, neither-soft-nor-firm texture.

If my mother had put these onto the Thanksgiving table, I don’t think I would have ever made it to the turkey.

Gjelina-style Brussels Sprouts

  • 1/4 pound slab bacon, cut into thick dice
  • 24 small brussels sprouts
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for rubbing
  • Salt and pepper
  • 5 large Medjool dates, pitted and cut into thick slivers
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Fry the diced bacon in a heavy-bottomed skillet — preferably cast iron — until crisp-chewy. Set aside. Remove the bacon fat and wipe out the pan. (Resist the temptation to use the bacon fat for frying.)

Wash the brussels sprouts well. Trim the stem ends and remove any outer leaves. Cut in half from stem to top and rub each half with olive oil, keeping it intact.

Follow the 101 Cookbooks technique: “Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet over medium heat. Don’t overheat the skillet, or the outsides of the brussels sprouts will cook too quickly. Place the brussels sprouts in the pan flat side down (single-layer), sprinkle with a couple pinches of salt, cover, and cook for roughly 5 minutes; the bottoms of the sprouts should only show a hint of browning. Cut into or taste one of the sprouts to gauge whether they’re tender throughout. If not, cover and cook for a few more minutes.”

Return the bacon to the pan and add the date slivers. Toss gently with the vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Eat like candy.

42 comments Add your comment


January 25th, 2010
9:03 am

I have an easy and tasty recipe for brussel sprouts. I prefer fresh on the stalk if you can find them. Cut the larger ones in half so they cook in the same amount of time as the smaller ones. Chop plenty of fresh garlic and saute it in olive oil. Add the brussel sprouts and cover with chicken broth. Simmer until tender. Before serving, grate fresh parmesan cheese on top and I guarantee you they will be delish and not bitter.


January 25th, 2010
9:07 am

Thank you for these recipes! I gave my kids (ages 4 & 6) brussel sprouts for the first time 2 weeks ago. Believe it or not, they liked them but I didn’t (I faked it for their sake). So, now I’m looking for a way to cook sprouts so I don’t have to fake it. Appreciate your help…


January 25th, 2010
9:08 am

When we do brussels, we often crisp them up in olive oil and then add some soy and cayenne and end up with a very different kind of sprout. I do love brussel sprouts if they are not just boiled.

Petie The Crab

January 25th, 2010
9:09 am

I didn’t eat my first brussels sprouts until I was grown. I’ve always considered it a yankee food but I have really grown to enjoy it. To some degree it reminds me of bite size cabbage so developing a taste for it was easy. Thanks for the recipe Ms. Bird.

Call Me "Sprout"

January 25th, 2010
9:21 am

Easy recipe – first, steam (or microwave) halved brussels sprouts for a few minutes, then lightly brown in olive oil and butter with garlic, add salt, pepper, a little brown sugar and balsamic vinegar at the end and toss until coated. Yum. They’re really inexpensive right now, too (at least at the Dekalb Farmers Market)


January 25th, 2010
9:37 am

With such a variety of fruits and vegetables available can’t we all just agree that anything that needs cheese or bacon or sugar, or all three, on it to become edible is probably best left alone?!? Give the poor brussel sprout a break… it never did anything to anyone….


January 25th, 2010
9:40 am

Tracy P

January 25th, 2010
10:01 am

I also like Roasted Brussel sprouts! Discard any loose leaves, cut in half, mix in bowl with olive oil, garlic seasoning, kosher salt, pepper, etc (whatever you like), place on foil lined cookie sheet put in 450 degree oven, flip after 10 minutes… cook another 10 minutes they should be browned nicely… then eat like candy :-)


January 25th, 2010
10:09 am

Interesting.I’ve always liked Brussel sprouts. Didn’t have any until I was grown and back home from four years in the Marines. To me, they taste like little cabbages and being a Southern boy, I’m a cabbage lover. My wife doesn’t like them, though, so I seldom see them. Funny, she loves my stir-fried cabbage with corned beef hash and cornbread.


January 25th, 2010
10:09 am

I like them browned on the stovetop. Cut in half and place flat side down in a skillet of not quite smoking olive oil. After a few minutes (when golden brown), flip and let the roundside brown a little. Salt and pepper. Yum!

Bada Bing Bada Boom

January 25th, 2010
11:14 am

John, I hear that SAUCED serves a delicious sprout!

check it out!!

Byron Mathison Kerr

January 25th, 2010
11:46 am

Brussels sprouts have always been one of my favorite vegetables, and I have them at least once or twice a week. But I am not into preparing and cooking food.

Put a 12 oz package of frozen brussels sprouts into a quart ziplock bag along with beef bouillon powder and 1/3 cup of water. Seal the bag and fork holes in it immediately below the zip line in the thick part of the bag. Place the bag in a quart size container to keep it upright so the water will not run out.

Microwave at high for 12 minutes and let them sit for an additional 10 minutes. (Please note that my microwave oven is not as powerful as some. The cook time would have to be adjusted.)

[...] Originally posted here: Brussels Sprouts Redux | Food and More with John Kessler [...]

Mr. Friendly

January 25th, 2010
2:38 pm

I like Antwerp Sprouts better

Sean M

January 25th, 2010
3:03 pm

I like shredding/slicing them in the food processor and sauteeing them with olive oil and maple syrup. quick and easy. maybe some pine nuts too.

Swede Atlanta

January 25th, 2010
4:16 pm

I didn’t meet my first brussel sprout until I was an adult. They are one of my favorite vegetables. I just cut them in half and either sautee them with a little olive oil and garlic or microwave them. If I “nuke” them I put a little bit of butter, a dash of salt and a couple of good dashes of pepper. Yummmmm.


January 25th, 2010
4:51 pm

I only started to make Brussels sprouts regularly after I married my husband who said they were one of his favorites. Growing up we only ate them boiled with a ton of mayo (ick!) Now the best way is trim the core, place in a shallow roasting pan,drip olive oil and salt, and roast for 45 min at 350– inside is yender and outside is crunchy….

Georgian in exile

January 25th, 2010
4:54 pm

I love Brussels sprouts, but my wife hates them — and not just because of the taste. I’ve prepared them several ways to alleviate the bitterness, but a huge problem remains. Every time my wife eats them she develops tremendous gas — painful, bloated, trapped gas. Once, many years ago, after she had moaned in pain and held her middle for some time, I feared her appendix had burst — until the telltale sound and a sign of relief indicated the real problem. She’s still peeved with me for laughing.

Sooooo … any recipes that will out-muscle the Brussels bwaaaaaawmp?


January 25th, 2010
5:16 pm

Okay, I’m weird. I LIKE Brussels Sprouts!


January 25th, 2010
5:18 pm

I buy them almost weekly, and look for the freshest, greenest, plumpest ones I can find. I typically trim, toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast slowly with sweet onion and mushrooms, and then grate parmesan cheese over them at the end. These are my main dish, not a side dish. They are divine. Bocado’s Brussels are excellent. I can’t wait to try the ones at Miller Union!


January 25th, 2010
5:52 pm

These “little cabbages” have been a favorite of mine since I was a child (believe it or not!)…and the only way to fix them is to boil ’til tender, with a big hunk of butter, and salt/pepper to taste. I could eat them 3x a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year!!!


January 25th, 2010
6:00 pm

Best recipe I ever made was one I found on for brussels sprout hash with carmelized shallots. It’s the only way I fix them now. I sub and use balsamic vinegar and cut way down on the water. Everyone loves this dish.


January 25th, 2010
6:54 pm

The best way to cook them is to cut them in half, toss them in roasted walnut oil, salt and pepper and roast them on high heat in the oven. You still the crispy sprout and none of the hassel of the frying pan. Olive oil works as well, but walnut oil is the best by far.

tanya scott-williams

January 25th, 2010
7:19 pm

i am so glad that there is an article about this vegatable because for years i have been promoting it brussel sprouts are a staple in my home all of my children eat them with out any problems or complaints we eat them more then three times a week as a matter of fact i just hope more people give them a chance …………………….

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Matrix2gather, BalloonBoysADV. BalloonBoysADV said: Sunday Column: Brussels Sprouts Redux [...]


January 25th, 2010
7:43 pm

I just steam brussels for 15 minutes, and eat them without putting anything on them. Tasty.

Soaking vegetables in hog fat is just wrong. Might as well skip eating greens altogether. Just dip a chili cheese dog in pudding, and get it over with.


January 25th, 2010
7:56 pm

I have been making this recipe annually ever since I discovered it in the Thanksgiving recipes in the New York Times in 2003: (Braised Brussels Sprouts With Pancetta And Toasted Bread Crumbs
Adapted from Suzanne Goin of Lucques and A.O.C, Los Angeles).

It is amazing and sounds somewhat similar to the La Tavola dish mentioned in the article. Enjoy!


January 25th, 2010
8:43 pm

My family has enjoyed brussel sprots for years I found a recipe for the following. Steam them until almost tender. Chop bacon and brown, Remove bacon. Add olive oil, butter, chopped shallotts and sprouts. Add the bacon back to the mix and serve. This gives them a great taste and everyone really loves them.

Dr. P

January 25th, 2010
8:51 pm

I like the simpler preparations. For some reason, most cookbooks say to blanch before sauteing or roasting. It is not necessary. I toss an ounce or two of water into the pan and cover for the middle five minutes of a saute to get some steam action. Dark brown on the cut face is tasty.

Iron Chef Michael Symon is famous for deep fried sprouts (plain, no breading or batter). The first time I had them at his Detroit restautrant (Roast), they were very dark brown, seemingly way overcooked. Way wrong. Sweet and a little crunchy. Umm. No leftovers.

UGA Teacher

January 25th, 2010
9:10 pm

Once you’ve had fresh Brussels sprouts–you will never eat frozen ones again. I steam them until barely done, add unsalted butter, and fresh ground black pepper. A pound will make 2 servings–all for me. I buy the best ones at DeKalb Farmer’s Market.


January 25th, 2010
9:21 pm

Brussells Sprouts

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Eating Enthusiast, John Kessler. John Kessler said: Sunday Column: Brussels Sprouts Redux: My Sunday Column grew out of a post on this blog about a superlative brusse… [...]

John Kessler

January 26th, 2010
12:18 pm

Thanks for all these great recipes. Funny how cruciferous vegetables taste so different when cooked with high heat. Don’t think I’ll every boil cauliflower again.

Les duLunch

January 26th, 2010
3:16 pm

Out of season, we toss IQF sprouts straight from the freezer in a little olive oil and roast them with whole garlic cloves till the sprouts just start to caramelize. I’m particularly glad when some of the leaves detach from the heads and crisp up on the baking sheet like little sprout chips.


January 27th, 2010
7:47 pm

Try Paula Deen’s receipe for brussels sprounts with onion — saute bacon and onion, then garlic/remove the bacon for later/coat 2 lbs of trimmed sprouts in the bacon grease/add chicken stock and simmer til tender/top with crisp bacon and serve.

Dunwoody Don

January 28th, 2010
12:00 pm

Went to Woodfire Grill last night; ordered a side of sprouts for the table. Kevin’s version is great, as we expected. Everything else on the 5-course tasting menu was equally impressive.


January 28th, 2010
1:18 pm

I used to hate the things as a kid, but now, I love them.
Tried them different ways, most good, but I still think boiling them for TEN minutes (no more, no less) is the best and easiest way. Drop lots of butter on them fresh out of the water and there you have it. Plus, picking them fresh from the stalk helps.
What makes them bitter is cooking them TOO long, not the other way around.


January 30th, 2010
12:26 pm

My children started devouring them when I started roasting them. I remove as many leaves as possible and get them to a really small size. Place leaves and sprouts in bowl and add canola oil and kosher salt. Spread everything out on a baking sheet and roast at 400 for about 15 to 20 minutes. The leaves make wonderful little brussel sprout chips and the smaller size sprout is really tender.


January 30th, 2010
2:23 pm

I like to sautee fresh sprouts in butter and garlic salt. After cooked through (about 10 minutes) I coat them with dijean mustard, turn up the heat and cook another 2-3 minutes until the mustard is carmelized on the sprouts. This is guaranteed to be a delicious side dish with a pork tenderloin!!!

Steve Riley

January 30th, 2010
2:30 pm

John, that’s too funny. We have a house full of “sprout haters”, too. I’m going to give your recipe a try to see if I can bring them around.


January 30th, 2010
3:08 pm

Delicions steamed then serve with butter, lemon zest and chives.


January 30th, 2010
4:30 pm

Gourmet published a recipe a couple years ago — cook carrots and brussels in butter, add water and cover to steam, finish with cider vinegar when water is gone. Really tasty. I hated brussels (my mom used to boil frozen ones and serve them plain – shudder) until this recipe. I made it at new year’s and we were all left wanting more.