Brussels sprouts are a leafy green vegetable that grows in small, compact heads, like little cabbages. They have an earthy, vegetal, slightly bitter flavor, and can be cooked by roasting, sautéeing, pan-frying, and grilling.
What Are Brussels Sprouts?
Brussels sprouts are a cultivar of the Brassica oleracea species, which also includes cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale. Brussels sprouts resemble miniature cabbages, which is exactly what they are since they are the same species as cabbage. The buds or heads of the plant grow on thick stalks, which are either harvested by hand, by machine, or by cutting off the entire stalk. When harvested, the heads measure an inch or two in diameter and range from light to dark green. They're available year-round, although their peak season is from late August through March.
When purchased loose, Brussels sprouts are easy to prepare. They usually just need to be sliced in half through the stem, although some preparations involve shredding them and using the shredded leaves in a salad or stir-fry. Their flavor is earthy, vegetal, and slightly bitter, although the smaller ones have more sweetness. Additionally, Brussels sprouts that are harvested after the first frost tend to be sweeter.
How to Cook With Brussels Sprouts
Perhaps the most important thing when cooking with Brussels sprouts is not to overcook them. In addition to causing them to become mushy and drab in color, overcooking causes Brussels sprouts to emit sulfur-based compounds, which produces an unpleasant odor. So whatever cooking method is used, Brussels sprouts should only be cooked until they're tender but still firm and bright green.
Some of the best ways to prepare Brussels sprouts involve using dry heat, such as roasting or sautéeing. Cooking them this way produces caramelization, which brings out the sweetness of the sprouts. When simmering Brussels sprouts, make sure to use plenty of water, and leave the pot uncovered. This allows the sulfurous compounds to leach out into the water and then evaporate into the air. And above all, don't overcook them. When simmering, it's best to cook for no longer than 5 to 6 minutes.
To roast Brussels sprouts, halve them, toss with olive oil, and season with Kosher salt, then roast in a 400 F oven for about 20 minutes. To sauté, halve the sprouts and cook in a medium-hot skillet for 5 to 10 minutes, until tender and crispy. Another tip: avoid cooking or dressing the sprouts in acidic sauces or dressings, as this can increase the pungency of the sprouts. Brussels sprouts pair well with fats and oils, and Brussels sprouts with bacon are a popular combination, as the smokiness and fat are a favorable match with the sprouts' earthy bitterness.
What Do They Taste Like?
Brussels sprouts have an earthy, bitter flavor, although the smaller sprouts have more sweetness, and ones that are harvested during the colder months are sweeter overall. Dry heat cooking methods that produce caramelization will produce even more sweetness, along with other more complex flavors.
A 100-gram serving of Brussels sprouts contains 86 grams of water and provides 43 calories, 3 grams of protein, and 9 grams of carbs, along with 4 grams of fiber and negligible fat. They are an excellent source of both vitamin C and vitamin K, providing more than 100 percent of the daily requirement of each.
Brussels Sprouts Recipes
Brussels sprouts are frequently served as a side dish, and as a component in casseroles, salads, and pasta dishes. Here are a few recipes that feature Brussels sprouts.
Where to Buy Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are available year-round at grocery stores and farmers' markets, although their peak season is from late August through March, and their flavor is milder in the winter. During the autumn and winter, it is sometimes possible to buy Brussels sprouts still on the stalk.
Loose Brussels sprouts should be stored in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, where they'll stay fresh for up to a week, although they're best within the first three to four days you bring them home. If you purchase your Brussels sprouts on the stalk, they'll stay fresh longer. Keep them in the fridge as well. If you have room in the fridge, you can try standing the stalk up in a pitcher of water.
Brussels Sprouts. FoodData Central, U.S. Department of Agriculture