Brussels sprouts are a variety of brassica resembling a miniature cabbage. It's believed that they were first cultivated in Belgium, and they are therefore named after its capital, Brussels. They are often characterized as bland, bitter, and odorous; however, most of these unpleasant characteristics result from improper cooking and seasoning. When suitably prepared, brussels sprouts have a sweet and nutty flavor.
Brussels sprouts grow on long thick stalks, from which they must be picked, usually by hand. The individual sprouts resemble small cabbages, usually no more than about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter. Smaller sprouts tend to be sweeter than larger ones.
As brassicas, brussels sprouts harbor sulfur-containing compounds, which can result in unpleasant odors and flavors when prepared improperly. Overcooking them, especially by boiling, tends to amplify such characteristics.
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Brussels sprouts are a typical winter vegetable. Frost is generally considered to improve their flavor, which means that though they are available from October or earlier, the prime season starts in November.
Selection and StorageEdit
Brussels sprouts may be sold attached to or separated from their stalks. If feasible, purchasing on-the-stalk sprouts will help prolong their storage life. Select brussels sprouts that are green and firm. The leaves should be tightly clustered and not wilted. They will last about a week in the fridge after purchasing, and 3-5 weeks at 32˚F (0˚C).
Preparation and CookingEdit
To prepare brussels sprouts, slice off the base of the stem and remove the outer layer or two of leaves, which may have become battered during transport and storage. Wash the buds well before cooking. Because they are a small vegetable, sprouts can generally be cooked whole, but they may also be halved or sliced to encourage even cooking. When cooking larger sprouts whole, you can cut a small cross in the base to help the sprout cook evenly.
Overcooking is a common problem with brussels sprouts, especially when boiling or steaming. This makes them soggy and discoloured, and it releases the strong 'cabbagey' odour of all brassicas. When boiling sprouts, keep an eye on their color, flavor, and texture. Whole sprouts require between 4 and 10 minutes of boiling time, depending on how cooked you want them. Steaming time ranges from 8 to 15 minutes. It's best to taste test the sprouts during cooking to see whether they have the desired tenderness. When done, they should be bright green.
Brussels sprouts can also be roasted or fried with oil and seasonings. Dry cooking in this way allows the sprouts to caramelize, which produces a nutty sweetness, and avoids overall sogginess. Sprouts may also be shaved and eaten raw, although this tends to be less common than cooking them.
In the UK, brussels sprouts are a traditional winter vegetable, and are often eaten boiled with a roast dinner. They can also be stir fried or made into soup. Simple serving suggestions include sprinkling the sprouts with lemon juice, salt, fresh nutmeg, or grated cheese, possibly with a light coating of butter or olive oil.