Veggie of the Week - Brussel Sprouts
sponsored by Coleman Farms
There's some story about Eleanor Roosevelt, the English and Brussels Sprouts which, as I recall, comes down to the vegetable having more endurance than the diners: it was Winter, it was wartime, and the only veg available was sprouts. This says less about English cuisine than it does about the hardiness of Sprouts, which will happily stand in the field through a Lincolnshire Winter, snow, sleet, freezing rain, showers, heavy at times, and all, ready to be picked fresh whenever a farm hand dare venture out.
Brussels Sprouts are a lot like minature cabbages, only really good ones will have a nutty component to their flavor with sometimes an element of citrus, too, and the texture differs from cabbage: properly cooked a Brussels Sprout will present a contrast of slightly crunchy, phyllo-like outer leaves and a creamy center.
You can serve them plain, of course, steamed with maybe a bit of butter and cracked black pepper or some nutmeg to enhance the nuttiness. If you do this and have left overs, you can serve them cold, possibly with a bit of vinaigrette, on their own or in salad (with pickled beet?), use them in a sort of discretized Colcannon - islands of chou in a sea of mashed potato, or use them in soup.
Making soup is a good enough reason to cook up a batch of Sprouts. You don't really need a recipie: just stock of some kind, cooked sprouts, milk or cream, pepper, nutmeg, then puree the cooked sprouts and combine everything else, taking whatever precautions necessary with the dairy to avoid curdling. If you like, you can reserve some of the sprouts to serve whole in the soup.
As is pointed out in several of the linked articles, Sprouts have a somewhat evil reputation, particularly amongst those afflicted with a Public School education. They're smelly and rather vile tasting, the reputation has it. The linked articles put this down to overcooking, but my personal view is that it has more to do with unfreshness. Like many other sulfury vegetables - brassicas, Arugula, the mustards - something happens, probably to the sulphur compounds, as the product ages after picking, accentuating the sulphur's contribution to taste and odor, and, incidentally, making the product less digestible. Another contributor to off-taste can be the cookware - avoid aluminum as it will react with these sulphur compounds.
The Wikipedia article claims that a British poll rated the Sprout as 'most hated vegetable', whereas a poll in 2005 rated it as 'fifth favourite'. I'd like to suggest that within the context of British vegetable cuisine, these results are not incompatible.