Brussels sprouts are the “Marmite food” of the season.
They also have a sort of cameo role in the second ‘Moss Reid’ book, Black Marigolds. When your crime story is set in Dublin during the run-up to Christmas, it can be hard to avoid the sprouts.
Sprouts are as much part of Christmas as the Late Late Toy Show and the panto in the Gaiety Theatre and the Queen’s speech and Dickens and, er, watching The Great Escape with mince pies.
So sprouts are a love/hate thing and I’m in the love camp. Can’t get enough of them.
I know, I know, you can cook the bejaysus out of them until they are a sulfurous soggy mush and release something horrid that chemists call glucosinolate sinigrin.
They also came third in the (I’m not making this up) Sainsbury’s ‘Top of the Pops’ of Windy Vegetables. The number one and two slots go to jerusalem artichokes and… parsnips of all things.
Some people’s tastebuds find sprouts intensely bitter, but I consider them nature’s sweet little jewels of the season. They are heroes, not villains. And they are so bloomin’ versatile:
- Sprouts love sesame seeds. Add lightly boiled sprouts to an oiled pan. When they start to brown and caramelise add the seeds, lightly toasting them for a minute (or do the seeds separately in a dry pan to release the oils). Add a dash of sesame oil to exaggerate the nutty flavour.
- Sprouts love bacon. Sprouts + lardons ( + nuts ) = a classic combination.
- For added texture, fry streaky bacon separately until crunchy, then sprinkle it on the cooked sprouts.
- And there’s Choux de bruxelles aux marrons – brussels sprouts with chestnuts – a classic French dish. Here’s Saint Delia of Norwich’s recipe.
- I find roasted chestnuts a tad bland – especially tinned ones. Instead, I’d toast a handful of coarsely chopped pistachios, or roughly chopped almond flakes.
- Cooked sprouts can be surprisingly sweet, so they go well with a good balsamic vinaigrette.
- For extra flavour add six crushed juniper berries when frying the sprouts, and – in the final 30 seconds – a small dash of soy sauce. East meets West; the result is sweet, salty, scrummy and sinful. Brussels sprouts adore soy sauce.
- Or shred and flash fry them with hot chili and garlic. Let’s live on the culinary edge this Chrimbo.
And remember: brussels sprouts are like puppies. Sprouts are for life, not just for Christmas.
A note about spelling
Yes, they are brussels sprouts, not brussel sprouts (without the “s”), because there is no such place as Brussel.
I had to make absolutely sure of this style question while writing Black Marigolds. Check out the ever-so-useful Guardian and Observer Style Guide, which keeps “brussels” lower case.
(The same style guide makes jerusalem artichokes lower case too. It notes: “nothing to do with Jerusalem – this jerusalem comes from the Italian for sunflower”. Store that away for the next pub quiz.)