After years of suffering from a bad reputation, Brussels sprouts have managed to become the new rock star of the veggie world. It seems you can't open a menu at a restaurant without finding them featured as a side or a full main dish. And most of the time, they are delicious. Managing Producer Sally Swift wanted to learn how to make crisp-tender restaurant-style Brussels sprouts at home. So, she turned to Dan Souza, the friendly on-screen test cook and science expert from America's Test Kitchen. He shared his secrets to making perfect Brussels sprouts in just 10 minutes. Try the process at home with this America's Test Kitchen recipe for Skillet-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Lemon and Pecorino Romano.
Sally Swift: I have been traveling a lot lately, and eating out more than I normally would. Out of seven restaurant meals I had on the road, I noticed that all seven had Brussels sprouts on the menu – not just as a side, but as the star. Brussels sprouts have completely taken over, and you pay a dear price for them when you're out. I'm wondering if you can walk us through how to make restaurant-quality crispy Brussels sprouts at home. I'm sure there's a trick.
Dan Souza: Absolutely. I think the first trick that we've learned over the years is you don't want to overcook Brussels sprouts. If you do, you get more of the sulfurous qualities that gave them a bad rap for so many years. What you're looking for is a crisp-tender texture, with bright green color, and you want the cut side to be super browned. Cabbages – any in the Brassica family, Brussels sprouts included – don't have a lot of sugar in them, so you can get them very dark without them tasting bitter. On the contrary, vegetables that are high in sugar can taste bad if you get them too dark. You want the cut side to get beautiful deep golden-brown and crispy. But the rest of the vegetable you want to be crisp-tender. There are different ways to achieve that nice contrast. Most recipes will turn on the oven to get the job done; that definitely works. But, we've developed a new recipe that I think is the best way to do it, because you can get Brussels sprouts done in 10 minutes and they've got all the attributes that we're looking for.
(Photo: America's Test Kitchen)
SS: Tell me the details. Is cutting them in half hugely important?
DS: Absolutely. What you need is surface area that can brown. If you look at a Brussels sprout, it's this little orb; it's not going to make very much contact with any surface in its whole form. Making one slice right down the middle and through the stem is going to give you a ton of surface area. A nice, flat surface that can sit directly in contact with the pan. That's what we're going to do with a pound of Brussels sprouts. We look for small ones, ones that are about one to one-and-a-half inches in diameter. We find them to be a bit sweeter. Slice right through the stem, and put them cut side down in a cold nonstick skillet, one that hasn't been preheated at all.
SS: A cold pan?
DS: Yes, a cold pan. We put them in a cold pan with five tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, which is a fair amount of oil. It’s important to get even browning across the whole surface. You don't want that bulls-eye where it’s browned in the middle, but blonde around it. Go with five tablespoons of oil. Put the lid on and turn on the heat.
During that first five minutes, steam is created inside the skillet because there's moisture in the Brussels sprouts. We don't have to add any extra water. Steam starts to slowly cook the Brussels sprouts and tenderize them. At the same time, the oil starts bubbling and browning the cut sides of the sprouts.
Once you’re past the five-minute mark, uncover the skillet and let all of the steam get driven away. That allows the browning to go into hyperdrive. The vegetables are pretty much crisp-tender at that point. Keep going for another two to three minutes until the bottom side is insanely brown. You want it to be gorgeous and super crispy, almost like a fried Brussels sprout texture. To finish them off, you can add many flavorings. My favorite is a simple but flavorful combination: Dijon mustard, brown sugar, white wine vinegar, and a tiny bit of cayenne pepper. It hits on sweet, savory, and tart, with little bit of spice in there. Honestly, they're addicting.
SS: This is essentially dressing them as if they were a salad.
DS: You can use any of the flavors that you like in a salad.
SS: One last question: Do you have any predictions on what the next big vegetable is going to be? It was cauliflower early on, and now it’s Brussels sprouts.
DS: Let me say that green beans are going to take over, because if I think of any other vegetable that as a kid I disliked as much as Brussels sprouts, it was green beans. I think it's time for them to come back.
SS: I'm with you on that one.