It’s hard to believe (considering how maligned the tiny cabbage was while we were growing up) just how relentlessly hip brussels sprouts have become. So much so, that no one ever really bothers to herald them as the second coming of kale — because in actuality, sprouts sort of surpassed the salad staple long ago.
In the same family as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts were believed to have been first cultivated in Belgium as early as the 1200’s — which is how they got their name — eventually finding their way to America in the 1800’s. The majority of U.S. production currently takes place in California (although New York State holds their own growing brussels sprouts), which sends out supplies of sprouts from June through January. Although since they’re hardy and cold weather tolerant, brussels sprouts can generally be found throughout the winter.
Because of that extensive season (and because they’re actually much more versatile than giant, fibrous leaves of bitter kale), the sweet, diminutive buds have already overtaken restaurant menus in earnest, and are likely to remain straight through early spring. At Mathieu Palombino’s beloved pizza palace, Motorino, the toasty leaves form a topping for a now infamous pie, paired with smoked pancetta, pecorino, and fior de latte cheese. Brussels sprouts star in one of the most talked about dishes at the revamped Dirt Candy; standing in for meat as a filling in DIY tacos, along with lettuce wraps and other accoutrements, and they even appear as a sandwich at The Cannibal (despite the restaurant-cum-butcher’s carnivorous mission statement), in an oozy grilled cheese with mozzarella, pancetta and basil.
Tender petals are also sneaked into a Chicken Sandwich at Upland, topped with salty curls of parmigiano and stripes of tangy dijonaise, and out in Brooklyn (where, perhaps, brussels mania has reached its peak), you’ll find two of the most lauded, sprout-centric side dishes in all of NYC; halved, deep-fried cabbages at Middle Eastern mecca, Tanoreen, topped with a zippy tahini-yogurt-pomegranate sauce, and paved with a panko breadcrumb crunch, and the crispy, Asian-style brussels sprouts at hot, Brooklyn ramen joint, Chuko, heady with fish sauce and strewn with toasted peanuts.
So whether you’re already a banner carrying brussels sprout acolyte (or still can’t separate them from those bland, boiled, pre-frozen balls you grew up with), it’s time to take advantage of the season’s fresh supply of brussels sprouts, which have made their way to farm stands & grocery shops throughout the city. Equally good purchased either on or off the stem (although it’s hard to resist the drama of a cone of still-attached sprouts, affixed in concentric circles around a thick, firm base), sprouts should feel tightly compacted and hard when you squeeze them. The buds should be a clear, bright green; avoid yellow, spotted or loose leaves. Size is also a matter of preference; smaller sprouts tend to be sweeter-tasting, while the larger ones are more cabbage-like. Either will keep for several weeks in the fridge.
To remove cabbages attached to a stem, pull backwards to release the sprouts; they should snap off in your hand with just a little pressure. To clean, place in a bowl filled with warm water and soak for about 10 minutes, which will effectively flush out any dirt that may be lurking inside. At this point, there’s no shortage of ways to use up a harvest of brussels sprouts. If you must go the steaming route, be brief — no more than five to seven minutes so the colors remain vivid, the texture is crisp & tender, and the aroma stays grassy — anything longer, and you’ll emerge with a pot of graying, sulfur-smelling veggies. Although when it comes to brussels sprouts, we’re all about caramelization, which means either sautéing them in a hot pan (we strongly suggest using bacon fat!), or better yet, roasting them in the oven with nothing more than olive oil, salt, and pepper (although adding chestnuts or sweet, purple grapes certainly doesn’t hurt).
What else can you do with brussels sprouts? Slice raw ones thin, and toss with vinaigrette and other fruits and vegetables for a salad or slaw, or cook down into a hash, paired with pancetta and potatoes and finished with a fried egg. Scatter on top of pizza or fold into a quiche, toss with pastas or creamy risotto, or go the Asian route (sprouts respond beautifully to sticky, spicy sauces) and mix into a stir-fry. You can use brussels instead of lettuce in turkey sandwiches, burgers or BLT’s, or add a nutritional element (and color boost!) to a bubbling crock of macaroni and cheese. You can even substitute brussels sprouts for out-of-season basil, in an earthy, vitamin-rich pesto! No wonder NYC has gone nutty for brussels sprouts.
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