Brussels sprouts probably have the worst reputation of any vegetable. They're the classic example of the vegetable hated by both kids and adults, only eaten because they're so good for you.
But the truth is, if you know how to cook Brussels sprouts properly, they can really be delicious. Which is especially awesome, because part of their reputation is actually deserved – they really are that good for you!
So what's the deal? Why does everyone hate Brussels sprouts? Well, it's a historical thing. There was a time when people felt that the only right way to cook a vegetable was to boil it until it was just about mushy. And for Brussels sprouts, that's a recipe for disaster.
Brussels sprouts contain things called glucosinolates. They're compounds that actually have all sorts of health benefits, but have the unfortunate tendency to release lots of sulfur the longer they're cooked. The result? The taste of overcooked Brussels sprouts might remind you of rotten eggs.
So no matter how you're doing it, rule #1 of how to cook Brussels sprouts is don't overcook the sprouts! And if you follow that rule, you'll find that a perfectly cooked Brussels sprout actually has a wonderful taste with a bit of a nutty tone to it. So get ready to forget all you knew about "icky" Brussels sprouts!
Of course, "don't overcook" doesn't tell you all you need to know about how to cook Brussels sprouts. In this article, I'll go over how to prepare Brussels sprouts for cooking. Then, I'll talk about five different ways to cook Brussels sprouts: steaming, boiling, braising, sautéing, or roasting. Each method has its own advantages and brings a different quality of this little veggie into the spotlight.
No matter what kind of Brussels sprouts you get, it's a good idea to wash them. Washing the sprouts helps gets rid of any dirt, insects and pesticides that might still be on the surface or inside the tightly packed leaves.
You can let the Brussels sprouts soak in lukewarm water for about 10 minutes. Any dirt will just sink to the bottom. You can gently stir the sprouts once or twice to help dislodge any dirt, but be careful not to agitate the water too much – you want the dirt to stay at the bottom!
The disadvantage with this method is that your sprouts can end up being a bit waterlogged. If you're planning on sautéing them or roasting them, you'll need to let them dry first.
Instead of soaking, you can also just rinse them under lukewarm water. It'll get rid of the surface dirt, but may not get everything on the inside. Not all Brussels sprouts really have dirt between the leafy layers though, so this method is usually perfectly fine.
Just rinsing the sprouts keeps them dryer, which is much better if you're planning on making sautéed or roasted Brussels sprouts.
When you're washing vegetables, lukewarm water gets rid of dirt and chemicals better than cold water.
Alright, the next step in learning how to cook Brussels sprouts. Once the vegetables are washed, you want to make sure they look good! And that means a few things.
You'll want to remove any yellow or brown leaves from your Brussels sprouts. They're wilted and won't be any good. Just keep the nice, tight, bright green sprout!
After a while, the Brussels sprouts' stem can get kind of tough. You can trim a little bit of the stem off to get a more tender sprout. Don't take off too much though – not much more than an eighth of an inch – or the leaves will just won't hold together anymore.
Finally, once the sprouts are clean and trimmed, you may need to cut them up a little bit. It's important that the sprouts not be too big, or it'll take too long for them to cook. And then by the time the center is cooked, the outside will be overcooked and will release that nasty sulfur smell.
It's also important that your Brussels sprout pieces all be about the same size, for just the same reasons. If some pieces are much smaller, they'll be overcooked by the time the bigger ones are done! And that's no good.
So here's what you need to do:
Any Brussels sprout that has a diameter much bigger than an inch and a half should be cut in half.
If you have a variety of sizes, cut the medium sprouts in half, and the bigger ones in quarters, so that all the pieces are about the same size.
And that's pretty much all you need to do! And we're ready to learn how to cook Brussels sprouts.
Steaming is a really easy way to learn how to cook Brussels sprouts. It lets you get the sprouts perfectly tender, without overcooking them. And because you're not immersing the vegetables in boiling water, they don't end up soggy or waterlogged.
Here's how to cook Brussels sprouts by steaming.
Prepare the Brussels sprouts, as described above. Be sure to cut them into even sized pieces, if needed.
Fill a pot with an inch or two of water, and bring the water to a boil.
Place the Brussels sprouts in a steaming basket, and place the basket over the boiling water.
Be careful! The steam is hot.
Be sure not to let the vegetables touch the water. You want the steam to cook them.
Cover the pot, leaving a little gap for steam to escape. It'll help prevent the sprouts from losing their bright green color, but will keep most of the steam in the pot to cook them.
Steam the Brussels sprouts until a knife stuck into the stem slides in easily. It should take 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of your sprouts.
Be sure to check them often, or they might overcook!
And that's how to cook Brussels sprouts by steaming them! And once the sprouts are cooked, you can serve them with a bit of butter, lemon or orange juice, salt and pepper, or even a bit of mustard. They'll be delicious!
Boiling is another super easy way to learn how to cook Brussels sprouts. By immersing the vegetables in boiling water, you do leech out some of the flavor – but that can make the sprouts a little milder tasting, which isn't always a bad thing.
Here's how to cook Brussels sprouts by boiling:
Prepare the sprouts, as described in the preparation section, being sure to cut them into even sized pieces if needed.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. The more water, the better – it'll help the water come to a boil again faster after you add the sprouts, reducing the cooking time.
Once the water is boiling, you can add a bit of salt. A half teaspoon per quart (liter) of water is usually about right.
Adding the salt when the water is hot helps it dissolve right away, rather than pooling at the bottom, where the salt crystals can damage your pot.
Add the Brussels sprouts to the boiling, salted water. Boil them uncovered for 5-10 minutes, until a knife inserted into the stem slides in easily.
Keeping the pot uncovered allows the acids from the sprouts to evaporate. If you cover the pot, they'll fall right back in and make the sprouts a dull olive green.
And you're all done learning how to cook Brussels sprouts by boiling! If you're not going to serve the sprouts right away, be sure to shock them in a bath of ice water, to stop the cooking process, or they could end up overcooked.
Like steamed sprouts, you can served boiled Brussels sprouts with butter, salt and pepper, or a bit of citrus juice or mustard, to dress them up a little.
Some people like to cut a little "X" into the sprouts' stems. The idea is that the slit will help the core cook faster, so that there's less chance of overcooking the outside while trying to get the inside cooked. I've done it both ways, and they've both turned out delicious, but I've never actually gone ahead and tested to see if it really does cook faster!
Braising is sort of a cross between steaming and boiling. When you braise Brussels sprouts, the vegetables are partially submerged in the water, but not completely. So they're partially cooked by boiling water, and partially cooked by steam. The water helps the sprouts cook fast without getting them waterlogged.
Here how to cook Brussels sprouts by braising them:
Take a pot big enough to hold all your Brussels sprouts in a single layer, and fill it with about an inch of water.
The water shouldn't be so high that it'll completely cover the Brussels sprouts when you put them in. It should only reach about halfway up the veggies.
Bring the water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, you can add a bit of salt, if you like.
Add the Brussels sprouts to the boiling water. Cover the pot, but leave a little slit for some steam to escape.
Normally, when you braise food, you don't want any steam at all to escape. But for green vegetables, covering the pot can make them turn a dull, olive green because of the interaction of dissolving acids and chlorophyll. Leaving a little slit won't make you lose too much steam, but it'll keep the vegetables a nice, bright green.
Braise the sprouts for about 5 to 10 minutes, until a knife inserted into the stem comes out easily.
Be sure to keep an eye on the water level. If it completely evaporates, you'll have to add a bit more.
Just like boiling, you can cut an "X" into the base of the sprouts to help them cook faster.
Since you're only using a small amount of liquid, you can actually replace the water with something more flavorful, like chicken stock. It'll give the vegetables a bit of extra flavor.
Once the Brussels sprouts are done, you can use the liquid left in the pot to make a quick and easy sauce. Try adding a bit of butter, mustard, fruit juices, or herbs and spices. Then let the sauce boil down till it's just the right taste and consistency, and serve it with the sprouts.
Sautéing is a different and delicious way to enjoy Brussels sprouts. Cooking them in the pan just doesn't seem to break down the compounds in the sprouts the same way that boiling, steaming or braising does.
That means it doesn't smell as strong when you cook them, and it's also a lot harder to overcook the sprouts.
When you're sautéing Brussels sprouts, you can also let the sprouts caramelize a little bit, which really brings out the sweetness and delicate nutty flavor.
Here's how to cook Brussels sprouts by sautéing them:
Prepare the Brussels sprouts, as described above. It's especially important that the pieces not be too big, so halve or quarter the sprouts if you have to.
In a pan big enough to hold the sprouts in a single layer, heat some oil over medium heat.
Once the oil is hot, add the sprouts to the pan and stir them to coat them in oil.
Try to get the cut side down so that the maximum surface possible is in contact with the hot pan – it'll help get more of the sprout caramelized.
Cook the sprouts until they're browned, but not burnt, stirring every so often. It'll take 10 to 15 minutes to cook them.
Season with a bit of salt and pepper, and they're ready to serve!
Try sautéing a bit of onion or garlic in the oil before adding the sprouts. It'll give a great flavor.
You can also cook a bit of bacon, crumble it up, and add it to the sprouts. Or prosciutto, or ham, or anything else similar. It's an amazing combination!
Once the sprouts are cooked, try sprinkling them with a bit of grated cheese, or with some lemon juice or even some slivered almonds. It's a simple way to dress up the dish.
Instead of sautéing whole or quartered sprouts, you can split the sprouts into leaves.
Just slice a bit off the stem, and then peel the leaves off from the bottom up. When you can't peel any more leaves off, try slicing off a bit more of the stem. When the core is too tight to split into leaves, just slice it thinly.
Splitting the sprouts into leaves really gives the dish a whole new taste and texture, and can easily convert a Brussels sprout hater into a die-hard fan.
If you want to know how to cook Brussels sprouts so that even Brussels sprouts haters will enjoy them, then roasting is a great option. Roasting vegetables just gives them a different flavor, by caramelizing their natural sugars and bringing out the vegetables' natural sweetness.
And it works the same for Brussels sprouts. With just a bit of oil, salt and pepper, you can make an amazing side dish everyone will love.
Here's how to cook Brussels sprouts by roasting them.
Preheat the oven to 400F.
Prepare the Brussels sprouts as described above. Be sure to quarter them or halve them if they're too big.
Toss the sprouts with a bit of oil, salt and pepper. You can also add some herbs or spices to the mix. Garlic is especially good!
Each sprout should be coated in oil, to keep it from drying out, but it doesn't need to be very thick at all. In fact, the thinner the better!
Place the Brussels sprouts in a roasting pan in a single layer.
Roast the sprouts for 35 to 40 minutes, until they're starting to get nicely browned. Stir them halfway through the cooking time.
Serve, and enjoy!
During the last 5 to 10 minutes of cooking time, you can add a bit of grated cheese, or some cooked bacon or ham, or some pine nuts or almonds, to dress up the sprouts a bit.
Try adding a bit of balsamic vinegar to the sprouts about 10 minutes before they're done. Stir them well, and put them back in the oven.
And that's how to cook Brussels sprouts! Trust me, it really is worth a shot. You might find out that you really do love this great little vegetable after all.