The black sheep of Christmas, Brussels sprouts are unfairly maligned, largely because, for many a year, we don’t know how to cook them properly.
Popular opinion for years was to cut a cross in the bottom and boil them silly, but these days even Delia and Nigella advise against that. Delia ditches the boiling altogether, opting for a steamer instead, which helps to retain a bit of bite without verging into soggy territory.
There is always the option of 35 minutes in a hot oven – as Nigel Slater is known to do – but the general consensus, supported by Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver, is that sprouts are best when par boiled or steamed in water then finished in a pan with a bit of butter. As with all brassicas the key is not to overcook, as that will leave them sulphurous and bitter.
Also, a note on buying – the smallest sprouts are the sweetest, so try and cherry pick your own, rather than buying the pre-packed bags.
Easy Brussels sprouts
TIME 25 minutes
400g Brussels sprouts
1 generous knob of butter
Cracked black pepper
Bring a large pan of water to the boil and season with a couple of big pinches of salt.
Meanwhile, start prepping your sprouts – trim the ends with a sharp knife and remove any tough outer leaves.
When the water is at a rolling boil, drop the sprouts in the boiling water and cook for around 4 minutes. The sprouts should still have a bit of a bite when they’re ready to be drained.
Heat a large frying/saute pan over a medium/high heat. Add the butter to the pan and when it starts to foam, add the drained sprouts. Turn the heat down to medium and sauté the sprouts in the butter, tossing occasionally. After a few minutes they should be golden and caramelised. Check the seasoning – you can add more salt and pepper here if you like.
Drain the sprouts on some kitchen towel to remove the excess butter, then tip them into your serving bowl. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice and serve.
Brussels sprouts with pancetta, chestnuts and lemon
This is the perfect way to change the minds of your sprout-hating friends and family. Combining sprouts with salty pancetta, sweet chestnuts and lemon coaxes all the best qualities out of the little brassica. Using different fats together – olive oil, bacon fat and butter – adds layers of flavour, and you can mix things up to suit your tastes – rosemary and sage work equally well instead of thyme, as does orange instead of lemon.
TIME 40 mins
400g Brussels sprouts, trimmed, outer leaves removed and halved
150g smoked pancetta, diced (or use bacon if the deli is shut)
100g cooked chestnuts, sliced
1 knob butter
2 juniper berries, crushed (optional)
3 sprigs lemon thyme
Cracked black pepper
Put a large frying pan over a medium heat. Once the pan has warmed up, add a dash of olive oil and sauté the pancetta gently until the fat has rendered out and the pancetta is golden and crispy.
Meanwhile, bring a large pan of water to the boil, with a couple of pinches of salt to season. Boil the sprouts for 2-3 minutes, then drain and reserve for later.
Add the sliced chestnuts to the pan with the pancetta and fry for another minute or two until the chestnuts also start to crisp. Remove the pancetta and chestnuts with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen towel, but leave the rendered bacon fat in the pan.
Put the sprouts into the frying pan cut side down, along with the lemon thyme and juniper berries if using. Let the sprouts caramelise for a couple of minutes then flip them over, add a knob of butter and saute for another minute.
Return the chestnuts and pancetta to the pan. Toss everything together, then season with salt and pepper if needed. Finish with some grated lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Drain on kitchen towel to remove any excess fat, then serve.
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