Brussels Sprouts 101: How to Buy, Store, and Cook Them
Have you been eating enough Brussels sprouts? We reached out to a top chef to get her tips on buying and cooking them correctly.
People get passionate about Brussels sprouts. There are those who don’t appreciate seeing them turned into tempeh-stuffed “sliders” for Thanksgiving, those who love them roasted “Momofuku”-style—with fish sauce, lime, garlic, and chiles—and those who insist that they are best when eaten raw. I reached out to Amanda Cohen, chef-owner of New York City vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy, to get her tips on smarter Brussels sprouts techniques.
Whether you buy them still attached to that long, giant stalk or you spy them loose at the farmers’ market or grocery store, look for sprouts that are “pretty, with no yellowing, and a tight bulb,” says Cohen. Consider how you’ll prepare them when it comes to what size you pick, she suggests. “I think the smaller ones—although tiny and cute—they’re much harder to work with, and it’s a real pain to cut them.” (If you’re cooking whole small Brussels sprouts, she qualifies, no problem.) As for the stalk, though you could cut it in half and roast it to eat a small part of its edible center, “you’d need a big sharp knife to get through it.” She doesn’t think it’s worth it to try to eat the stalk.
Store the sprouts in the fridge, and know that they’re pretty durable. Some would suggest trimming, cleaning, drying, and finally storing them in the crisper, but most suggest waiting to clean and trim the sprouts until you’re ready to use them. Cohen, who goes through two cases a day, thinks “they last in either place—if you have a lot of food in the fridge, they don’t have to be in the right spot.”
Boiled: Though “boiled” conjures for Cohen “the hideous ones everyone grew up eating—soft and mushy,” she admits that “you could do a good Brussels sprout if you wanted to,” as long as you didn’t cook it too long. She’d be much more likely to steam her sprouts, lest she leach out their flavor.
Roasted: If roasting, crank up that oven. “I like to cook them long and hard,” says Cohen, for caramelization, crispy outsides, and soft insides. (Think: 400, 425 or 450 degrees.) She’d salt the sprouts before and after cooking, tossing them with olive oil before they go in the oven, and perhaps adding garlic halfway through the cooking time (so it doesn’t burn). She’d pass on pepper, which she doesn’t use much at the restaurant. “It’s a pretty overpowering flavor.” And unless you have a really uneven oven, you don’t need to toss the sprouts during the cooking process. “That sounds like a lot of work,” she laughs, adding, “Whenever something is evenly cooked, each piece, it’s not as interesting. All those differences are what makes the dish interesting.” Roast your sprouts till they’re “milk-chocolate brown,” she suggests.
Frying: You can fry your sprouts stovetop or in a deep fryer, and you can even reserve the leaves that fall off when you’re chopping the sprouts, frying them separately to top off your roasted or sautéed dish, as Cohen does. (Yum.)
Raw: Brussels sprouts can be delicious shaved thin for a salad, whether tossed with a creamy ranch or buttermilk-based dressing or combined with a red wine and olive oil, garlic and mustard vinaigrette. “It’s a lot of work but it’s fun!” says Cohen.
Sautéed: “I really like my Brussels sprouts simple; I like them stir-fried,” says Cohen of her favorite preparation. She’d heat a medium-sized pan over high heat, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, then add 2 cups of whole small of halved medium sprouts, shaking the pan frequently. Halfway through, once they’ve begun to color, she’d add ginger, garlic or finely minced onions—or a combination—plus salt. “You’ll see them get that nice shiny color, with some pieces looking translucent,” she says. That’s when you add a tablespoon of water, so the sprouts steam right in the pan and cook all the way through. She’d toss the finished sprouts with cilantro or parsley, plus more salt, to taste. “It’s nice to sort of expand your repertoire of vegetables that you can cook really fast!” Noted, Chef!
Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, Gourmet, and Epicurious. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @alexvanburen.