One of the great pleasures of living in the Monterey Bay is driving along coast highway and identifying the produce in the fields. This time of the year, Brussels sprouts are king and the fields are being harvested left and right by lots of hardworking people.
Brussels sprouts are funny looking, like a bunch of tiny cabbages stuck to a power post or maybe a strange palm tree. Sometimes they’re sold as a trimmed stalk for you to 'harvest' yourself. If you gift someone a stalk of Brussels sprouts, you'll be sure to get a chuckle.
Quirky looks aside, I love this cool-weather vegetable. Our local markets and farmers markets have super fresh ones nowadays with just cut ends and my husband and I feast them weekly.
We’ve deep fried them but they were a delicious mess that I’m not quite ready to recreate. We’ve roasted them but they can get overly bitter. Right now, we’re into boiling them and searing them in a skillet till they’ve picked up some color. Then I throw in a couple shots of fish sauce and call it a day.
Recently, in butterflying a chicken destined to be roasted, I set aside some of the excess fat and skin to cook the sprouts in. Usually I leave the fat and skin in large pieces so that I can render schmaltz and easily fish out the residuals. This time, however, I cut the bits up to fry them into cracklings, also called gribenes, an ‘in’ food these days.
It was tasty, borderline sinful if it weren’t for sprouts! The fatty richness of the cracklings contrasted nicely with the earthy vegetable. The fish sauce lent color and umami depth. It was a nice fall side dish and a good way to use up the chicken trimmings.
Non-Smelly Brussels Sprouts
If you hate these petit choux because you’ve only had them cooked to death, wherein they develop a sulfurous odor, rest assured that there is a simple workaround. Last week I learned that Brussels sprouts should not be steamed of boiled for more than 7 minutes. Writing in the San Jose Mercury News, produce expert Michael Marks said, “For every minute beyond [the 7 minutes], it doubles the amount of gasses produced — and the gasses produce that smell.” Set your timers my friends.
Among other sprouty tidbits that I picked up from Marks:
- Brussels sprouts originated in Western Europe. They are indeed named after Brussels, Belgium.
- There are new varieties being grown that are sweeter and milder tasting than the ones in the past that may have scarred you.
- There is more vitamin C from a serving of Brussels sprouts than an orange!
For selection tips, see the Brussels sprouts and Chinese sausage recipe.
Brussels Sprouts with Cracklings and Fish Sauce
Serves 4 as a side dish
1 pound of Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
2 to 3 tablespoons chicken fat and skin, cut into small pieces
1. Bring a heavily salted pot of water to a boil. Parboil the sprouts for 3 to 5 minutes, until just tender. Drain, flush with cold water, and drain well. Set aside. The sprouts can be prepared several days in advance up to this point, covered and refrigerated. Return them to room temperature before proceeding.
2. Heat chicken fat and skin in a medium skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle on a little salt, then let them sizzle and sear. If they get out of hand and pop up a storm, add a little water to calm them down; raise the heat and cook until the water evaporates. What you want is to render the chicken fat and then let the solids fry in that fat until the bits are golden brown and crisp. Stir them occasionally to ensure even cooking.
3. Push the fat and skin to the side of the skillet, then add the Brussels sprouts, putting them facing down. Increase the heat to medium-high or high. Let them cook for about 2 minutes, until they pick are light golden on their cut side. Turn them and continue cooking for a little longer to heat them through. The cracklings will naturally get mixed into the sprouts.
4. When things are hot and fragrant, add 2 or 3 shots of fish sauce, turning the sprouts so they absorb the seasoning. Transfer to a serving bowl and enjoy immediately.
Related recipe: Brussels sprouts and Chinese sausage