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A New Era For The Brussel Sprout

Once the most maligned vegetable on the Christmas spread, this hardy winter brassica has undergone something of a make-over….

The humble sprout has never really been met with the warmest reception. Whether through bad press, poor preparation or simply being misunderstood, this cornerstone of the Christmas dinner is something that’s long been endured, rather than enjoyed.

However, home cooks don’t have the best track record when it comes to getting the best from produce, leaving professional chefs to pave the way forward. In recent years, seasoned chefs have done exactly that, breathing intrigue and balanced flavour into these under-appreciated green spheres.

The flavour of a Brussel sprout can be a challenging one, but working to soften the bitterness can go a long way to winning over the critics. For some, that can mean introducing salt and/or sweetness. Lardons and bacon have provided this balance for some time, while the addition of maple syrup and honey are also avant grade additions to a sprout dish.

Creaminess works well in this arena too. On the high end, we’re seeing halved spouts being pan fried then dressed in sauces that include sherry vinegar, crème fraîche, whole grain mustard and pepper. This indulgent, rich side lends itself perfectly to steaks, and heavy red meat dishes, while also flexing its versatility across roast chicken and even vegetarian nut roasts.

Jamie Oliver converted the masses over the course of several Christmas specials where he thinly sliced them in a food processor before sautéing in a pan with lashings of Worcestershire sauce. A savoury number that softens that brash bitterness and delivers a welcome whack of umami.

Chef’s should give in to the urge of deep frying Brussel sprouts, a cooking process that has the potential to convert even the most opposed sprout eater. The Guardian recommends trimming the bottoms before entering them whole into olive oil at 165-170ºC. Anointed with goats’ cheese and chilli flakes, it’s an option that screams to be eaten with your fingers. We think this could be a winner this winter for ‘dirty’ veggie outlets and restaurants catering to a flexitarian clientele.

Away from plant-based dominance, the introduction of animal products that align with the sprout extends to black pudding as well as good quality beef dripping. Punchy seafood shouldn’t be overlooked either, with anchovies paving the way forward. The way these little fish break down in the pan, finding their way beneath the leaves and intertwining their flavour into every mouthful is a truly satisfying endeavour for any conscientious cook. For those happy to explore this dimension, shrimp pastes and fish sauce can go a long way to diversifying your uses of Brussel sprouts, while a gentle approach with gochujang can deliver incredibly exciting results.

With more attention being given to vegetables than ever before, now is the time to be confident with the Brussel sprout and up your game with how you prepare them. What was once an obligatory afterthought for winter menus, could now play the starring role.