Brussels sprouts have long been a divisive side dish at the Christmas Day table; there are lovers and haters but very few in-betweeners. With over 100 varieties, don’t assume all sprouts are the same, however. Among the most popular are Abacus (ready in August and September) and Cryptus (these are like mini cabbages with frilly outer leaves, ready in December), plus dark green Petrus and Splendus that continue going strong into April.
What to buy
Look for firm, fresh, perky looking sprouts when you buy them. They should have a pale base and darker leaves – any yellowing or browning will mean they’re getting old. Also, if they look as if the leaves have started to open out, they have probably been harvested late. If you buy them on a stalk then, just before cooking, twist them off firmly starting at the base and working upwards, or as is fashionable, roast them on the stalk.
- 750g sprouts, trimmed, any large ones halved
- 50g butter
- Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the sprouts and simmer for 5 mins.
- Test with a sharp knife to see if they are cooked through.
- Drain and tip back into the pan, add the butter and plenty of seasoning and turn the spouts over until they are well coated.
The one rule that holds true for cooking sprouts on the hob is that you should try and avoid cooking them for more than 5 minutes or the sulphurous compounds (isothiocyanates) within them will start to break down – and they will start to smell. The longer you cook them for, the stronger the smell will get.
Halve, quarter or shred your sprouts to minimise the cooking time. If your sprouts are larger than average and if you want them to remain whole, you can of course cook them for longer. They will probably need 7 or 8 minutes to cook through.
Don’t cut a cross in the base of your sprouts. It won’t make them cook any quicker or better, and it makes prepping them take longer.
New ways to cook sprouts
Steamed: Steam halved sprouts in a steamer set over a pan of simmering water, or in a microwave for 5 minutes (longer if they need it). Season and dress with butter and a squeeze of orange.
Roasted: Toss sprouts in a little oil and tip into a pan with bacon lardons or wrap each in pancetta, roast at 200C/180C fan/gas 6 for 20-30 minutes or until tender.
Pan-fried: Heat some oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Put halved sprouts in, cut-side down, leave to sizzle for 10 mins then dot with butter and carry on cooking for 10 mins until dark brown. Season and scatter over some sesame seeds
Deep-fried: Heat a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan filled a third full with oil until it reads 190C on a thermometer, or a piece of bread browns in it within 15 secs. Carefully add the sprouts and cook for 3 mins until deep golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper, then scatter with flaky sea salt.
Gratin: Roast sprouts at 200C/180C fan/gas 6 for 30 mins. Pour over some cheese sauce, scatter with dried breadcrumbs (and some bacon if you like) and bake for 10 mins.
Creamed: Steam or simmer sprouts for 3-4 mins until tender then roughly chop. Fry a finely chopped onion in butter until tender, stir in the sprouts and add some cream, a grating of nutmeg and heat together.
Raw: Shred raw sprouts, toss with mayonnaise or vinaigrette and use instead of cabbage in slaws.
Top five Christmas sprout recipes
Bubble & squeak cakes
Sprouts with crispy prosciutto
Cranberry, sprout & pecan pilaf
Indian spiced greens
All-in-one roast bubble & squeak
All-in-one roast sprouts, potato and bacon. Easy and addictive.
How to store sprouts
Sprouts will store for a reasonably long time, at least 5 days and up to 10 days, if you put them in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of your fridge. Do not wash them first as this will make them deteriorate faster.
How to freeze sprouts
If you end up with a load of leftover sprouts, you can freeze them but bear in mind the texture will not benefit from being frozen. If you do freeze them, use them up in bubble & squeak and other hash-style dishes or stir them into some cream and bake.
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