Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Brussels Sprout Gratin

Brussels sprouts are amazing, I hope you all realize that. They're like suped-up mini-cabbages. Before first tasting them only a few years ago, all I ever knew about these little green bastards was that kids just hate 'em, at least according the standard TV trope. Admittedly, brussels sprouts can have a strong, sometimes bitter flavor, but I can't help but think that most people hate them because their parents (or grandparents) boiled them1 to death and served them unseasoned. How could you enjoy any vegetable when it's cooked like that2?

In fact, Brussels sprouts have a really great sweetness that balances well with their bitterness, and the best ways of cooking them take advantage of that by using high heat to promote browning. Methods like roasting, sauteing, and deep frying are ideal. The sprouts' pungency indirectly comes from flavor precursors called glucosinolates. When you break the cell walls by cutting them, both these precursors and enzymes are released, and they combine to release sulfurous and bitter compounds. The upshot? Cook the sprouts briefly and intensely, as this will deactivate the enzymes and stave of stankiness while promoting those delicious Maillard and caramelization reactions. The inner leaves are most pungent, so halving or quartering the sprouts is often a good idea.

I made these sprouts as part of my solo Thanksgiving, so I wanted something that could just be shoved in the oven and left to do its own thing while I tended to more important tasks (like watching the Cowboys' game). And lo, brussels sprout casserole came to be (call it brussels sprout gratin if you want to be pretentious like me). It starts with a baseline of b-sprouts and shallots, combined with olive oil and heavy cream to supply needed fat, and topped with melted Asiago cheese to produce a nice brown crust (also because why not). Try it, you'll probably like it. And if you don't… I created this recipe while drunk-cooking and watching football, so shut up about it already. No one likes you.

Brussels Sprout Gratin

from Drunk Nate, Vol IV (unpublished)

1 lbBrussels sprouts, quartered
  1. Combine sprouts and shallots, drizzle with a little oil and salt, and toss to coat.
  2. Layer in a small baking dish and pour in a splash of heavy cream.
  3. Cover with foil and bake at 400°F for 20 minutes.
2 mediumShallots, sliced thinly
Olive oil
Heavy cream (optional)
Asiago cheese
  1. Pull out, remove foil and grate Asiago cheese on top. Return to the oven and bake until browned, about 15 minutes.

Quarter the sprouts and slice the shallots thinly using your favorite knife. This will expose the sprouts' stronger center leaves to direct cooking, reducing their pungency while providing more surface area for browning. Drizzle them with olive oil (which will also help to promote even browning), sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat. Now add the veggies to a small baking dish, making sure to leave some shallots on top, and add in a splash of heavy cream if you like.

Bake uncovered at 375°F for about 40 minutes or until the sprouts are tender but still firm, and the top has begun to brown3. Pull the dish from the oven, grate a layer of Asiago on top, and return to the oven. Cook unti the top is browned, about 10 minutes longer.

  1. The sprouts, not the kids. 

  2. Of course, the way my dad 'enjoys' his vegetables is boiled until their cellular structure is so badly compromised that they collapse under their own weight when pulled from the water. But even he seasons them with salt, pepper, and butter. 

  3. 40 minutes is just a ballpark figure here. You're a responsible adult (or at least you can read…), so keep an eye on the dish to make sure everything's proceeding nicely. If the sprouts aren't browning, turn the oven up. If they're drying out on top before cooking through, turn the oven down and cover the top with foil. Don't just follow my instructions blindly, for all you know I've never cooked this thing before, I just made this whole story up, and the last ten minutes of your life was a lie… 

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