- Tame the texture. Like all cabbages, Brussels are unavoidably fibrous and dense. You must overcome this by either cooking them in salty water until fork tender (blanching), or by roasting at a high (over 425F) temperature for upwards of 20 minutes. To guarantee great texture, do both! Trim and halve your brussels, then blanch and thoroughly dry them, and then roast at a high temperature until the outer leaves are starting to blacken.
- Moisture is the enemy of crispiness. There’s nothing wrong with soft and chewy Brussels, but if your goal is the type of crispy Brussels that they’re serving at your favorite bistro you MUST thoroughly dry the surface of the sprouts before sautéing and/or roasting them. If they are wet they will steam instead of crisp.
- Surface area is your friend! The more surfaces of the Brussels that are exposed to heat, the faster they will cook and the crispier then can become. Halving them is essential, but quartering them can be an even better way to get great texture and speed up cooking, especially if they are larger Imperfect Brussels sprouts or just late season ones from the store!
- Be bold with your seasonings. In addition to being dense and fibrous, Brussels have stubbornly bitter flavor. Don’t be shy! Brussels sprouts can handle a lot of seasoning and indeed require assertive flavors to taste their best. Think rock band drums more than a delicate Tamborine. Use big hits of salt like capers or soy sauce, tangy acids like lemon juice or vinegar, and umami bombs like parmesan cheese, fish sauce, or bacon. If you like a little spice, try adding some chile flakes!
- Balance your flavors! To balance their bitterness, you’ll need to cook your Brussels at a high heat to caramelize their natural sugars or add additional sweetness in the form of maple syrup or balsamic vinegar (try this recipe that uses both!). Once you’ve balanced sweet with bitter, balance the savory richness with the tang of fresh squeezed lemon juice, and the zing of some thinly sliced basil or mint!
Brussels sprouts remind us that every ingredient in our box has something to offer us. Indeed, it’s often the tough and challenging ingredients that are the most delicious and rewarding when cooked properly. What richness will you coax out of life’s bitter challenges?