For years I’ve worked at the holiday farmers’ markets in my town, so I’ve come to understand the passion Brussels sprouts can inspire. There are always a limited number of stalks, each thick and woody, far too large to fit in your fridge and too tough to shove in your compost. Each towering stalk has a couple dozen perfect sprouts, round and alive as if the stalk were rooted in some beautiful field. It’s a pastoral image for sure, and at the market there’s some prestige in having a few honking stalks protruding from your canvas shopping bag. But when supplies get low, I have seen more than one shopper over the years dive for the bin, grab the first stalk they find, and use it to fend off other shoppers while they choose exactly the right stalk.
Brussels sprouts are, not surprisingly, related to cabbage. Although the flavor of Brussels sprouts has some similarity to the sweet nuttiness of cabbage, the texture is really different. The leaves are silky and thin, and the sprouts themselves are excessively tender. For years, the traditional way to cook them was to boil them, and this inevitably overcooked the sprouts and would make the cook’s house smell like stinky socks. Luckily, boiling has been replaced by roasting or, my favorite, panfrying. I learned this method from Heidi Swanson in her book Super Natural Cooking, and I’ve never gone back to any other. Although it can feel a little fussy to place each sprout cut-side down on the cast-iron pan, it’s really worth it.
- Yield: 4 Servings
- 1 pound Brussels sprouts
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon neutral oil, such as grapeseed or sunflower
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Optional: 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
- Remove any loose leaves from the sprouts and trim off any stems. Cut each sprout in half through its stem. Put the sprouts into a bowl, add the olive oil, and toss to coat the sprouts in oil.
- Heat your largest skillet over medium heat. (This is a good time for cast iron if you have it.) Add the neutral oil, rotating the pan to spread the oil. Place the Brussels sprouts in the pan, cut-side down, in as close to a single layer as possible. Sprinkle the sprouts with salt and cover the skillet. If you don’t have a lid that fits the pan, a baking sheet will do the job. Let the sprouts sit undisturbed until they begin to color on the cut sides, 4 to 6 minutes. Carefully taste a sprout to see if it’s cooked all the way through. If not, replace the cover and cook for a few more minutes.
- Uncover the skillet and increase the heat to medium-high. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the sprouts are golden on all sides, 4 to 6 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cheese, if using.