How to cook Brussels sprouts

Serve perfect Brussels sprouts at Christmas with our tips on buying, cooking and freezing this gorgeous green veg, plus recipe twists to convert sceptics.

Sprouts with pomegranates in a bowl

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.

Basic recipe

Serves 8

  • 750g sprouts, trimmed, any large ones halved
  • 50g butter
  1. Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the sprouts and simmer for 5 mins.
  2. Test with a sharp knife to see if they are cooked through.
  3. 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.

Fondue with roast sprouts

Cheesy fondue in a bowl with sprouts on the side

Stir-fried: Steam or simmer sprouts for 3 mins, then heat a little oil in a wok and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes until they colour a little. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

Spicy stir-fried sprouts 
Chicken, kale & sprout stir-fry

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

Burnt sprouts with pomegranate & sesame 

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. 

Deep-fried Brussels with black pudding & apple 

Fried Brussels sprouts on a plate with shopped up Black pudding, apple and salad leaves

Hash: Fry sliced sprouts (pre-cooked if you like) in a little butter until they start to brown, add mashed potato, season and mix, squash down in the pan and brown the base. Turn over in patches and keep browning wherever needed.

Bubble & squeak

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.

Roasted sprout gratin with bacon-cheese sauce 

Sprout gratin in a deep bowl

Braised: Tip sprouts into a pan and cover with chicken stock, add a knob of butter and bring to the boil. Simmer for 8-10 mins and then rest the sprouts in the stock until needed.

Three-in-one braised vegetables 

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.

Sprout salad with citrus & pomegranate

Sprout salad in a bowl with pomegranates


Top five Christmas sprout recipes

Bubble & squeak cakes

Bubble & squeak cakes

Leftover sprouts can easily be used up in this recipe, and you may well get them past sprout avoiders in this form. Serve as a side or with a poached egg for brunch.

Bubble & squeak cakes
 

Sprouts with crispy prosciutto

Sprouts with crispy prosciutto

Pancetta (or prosciutto, or bacon), goose fat and sage make these sprouts a fragrant and luxury side dish for a roast.

Sprouts with crispy prosciutto 
 

Cranberry, sprout & pecan pilaf

Sprouts, cranberries and rice on a plate

This very pretty dish uses sprouts in two ways and is jewelled with festive red pomegranate seeds. Serve with roasts or stews.

Cranberry, sprout & pecan pilaf
 

Indian spiced greens 

Indian spiced sprouts in a square white dish

Add spices, coconut and chilli to your sprouts and greens to make a very different side dish for a roast.

Indian spiced greens
 

All-in-one roast bubble & squeak

Sprouts, bacon and vegetables in a square serving dish

All-in-one roast sprouts, potato and bacon. Easy and addictive.  

All-in-one roast bubble & squeak 

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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How do you like to serve Brussels sprouts? Leave a comment below...

 

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