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In Season: Brussels sprouts, winter’s star vegetable

January 4, 2016

Brussels sprouts are renowned for their nutrition as well as their sweet, nutty flavor.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — These little green power balls are on a roll.

Renowned for their nutrition as well as their sweet, nutty flavor, Brussels sprouts seem to be popping up all over restaurant menus, and their popularity is extending as well to home kitchens, thanks to innovative packaging and marketing.

"Mmmmm, Brussels sprouts! I’ve always loved them," said Shannin Stein, general manager of Sacramento, Calif.’s new Empress Tavern.

Part of their appeal is they can just as tastefully stand up to a rib roast or anchor vegetarian fusion food. A case in point is Empress Tavern and its next-door sister restaurant, Mother.

"No doubt, the Brussels are the most popular side dish at both restaurants," said Stein, who also helps run Mother. "As much as I love the ‘Brussels and Burrata’ at Empress, my current favorite are the ‘Crispy Brussels’ at Mother. They are halved Brussels with soy caramel, Sambal (Asian hot sauce), garlic and ginger. They are sinfully wonderful!"

Empress’ cheesy Brussels sprouts are no slouch, either.

"The ‘Brussels and Burrata’ at Empress are halved Brussels, given a quick dip in the fryer, then sautéed with our house bacon and apples," Stein said. "We serve them on top of a full serving of scrumptious burrata."

That’s just a sample of what chefs can do when they play with their Brussels sprouts. Selland’s Family Restaurants features this versatile vegetable at all three of its venues. Ella Dining Room & Bar serves them roasted with applewood bacon and whole-grain mustard. Selland’s Market-Cafe puts them atop pizza (with more bacon, red onions and sage) while The Kitchen shaves fresh sprouts as an accompaniment to smoked steelhead trout.

Also around Sacramento, The Grange snuggles Brussels sprouts alongside lamb shanks and turns them into pickled kimchi with Asian pears and sesame. The Waterboy fries them as a side to its steak du jour. Esquire Grill includes crispy Brussels sprouts mixed with roasted delicata squash, red onions and pecans as part of its grilled maple-glazed chicken entree salad, while oven-roasted Brussels sprouts accompany its old-fashioned oven-roasted Mary’s chicken (as well as grilled New York steak and Delmonico rib-eye).

Through all this experimentation, one rule remains constant: Brussels sprouts are never wimpy.

Milder than cabbage, Brussels sprouts still make a strong statement on the plate and need other robust flavors for balance. As a side dish or ingredient, this winter vegetable complements meaty or full-flavored entrees, but tends to overpower delicate fish or mild chicken dishes.

But as more chefs discover Brussels sprouts, expect their popularity to continue to climb.

"Food trends start in restaurants," noted Diana McClean, marketing director for Ocean Mist Farms, a major vegetable producer in Castroville. "People taste it and they want to try it at home. Shoppers also want something easy and nutritious. You now can buy (pre-packaged) Brussels sprouts and have fresh vegetables on your plate in minutes."

Ocean Mist has been growing Brussels sprouts since 1924. Fields of Dr. Seuss-style stalks line the roads near its Monterey County packing plant and cooling facility.

McClean has been impressed by what chefs do with Brussels sprouts.

"Roasted Brussels sprouts are very popular right now," she said. "We’re also seeing a lot of sautéing and grilled Brussels sprouts, which are easy to do at home, too. Restaurants are ‘flash frying’ Brussels sprouts leaves, crisping them up and offering them with dip like chips.

"You can put the whole stalk with its sprouts on the barbecue and roast it," McClean said.

Most consumers today want their Brussels sprouts with less fuss, she said. Ocean Mist recently introduced a full product line of "Season & Steam Brussels sprouts," aimed at making this vegetable more convenient for home cooks. "Quick Cook Sprouts" are pre-halved and trimmed, cutting down on preparation time. "SuperShreds Superfood" takes the chore out of shredding Brussels sprouts for slaw, salads and stir fries. Microwavable whole Brussels sprouts come packaged, ready to zap (and eat in five minutes).

Those are "value-added" Brussels sprouts, McClean said, and that’s helped this vegetable’s overall appeal to consumers.

"We’ve seen bulk sales of Brussels sprouts climb steadily from 2010 to 2014," she said, "but value-added Brussels sprouts are outpacing bulk."

McClean credits millennials for the pre-halved and trimmed Brussels sprouts trend.

"Baby boomers will still spend time in the kitchen, but millennials want fresh, gourmet, healthy food — fast!" she explained. "Everything comes at the speed of light now. If you can cut time in the kitchen and not pick up fast food for dinner, it’s pretty awesome."

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ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH BACON

Serves 8

Chef Tony Baker of Montrio Bistro created this restaurant-style recipe for Ocean Mist Farms.

1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts

4 slices double-smoked or hickory-smoked thick-sliced bacon, diced

For vinaigrette:

3 egg yolks

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 shallot

1 1/2 cups white balsamic vinegar

3 cups olive oil

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove the bottom (stem end) of the sprouts and trim off one layer of outer leaves. In a medium pan, add the diced bacon and lightly brown. Strain off most of the fat and set the bacon to one side.

Add the Brussels sprouts to the pan and toss with the remaining bacon fat. Roast the sprouts in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes until tender.

Make vinaigrette: Place yolks, mustard, shallot and vinegar in a blender. On medium speed, slowly add the oil; if the consistency is too thick, add a little water. Add salt and pepper to taste. (You’ll have more than you need for the sprouts.)

Toss roasted sprouts with bacon and some white balsamic vinaigrette and serve.

CITRUS SHAVED BRUSSELS SPROUTS SALAD WITH LEMON VINAIGRETTE

Serves 4

This recipe was created by Monterey chef Tony Baker for Ocean Mist Farms. He tops it with grilled shrimp.

1 pound Brussels sprouts or 1 pound pre-shaved Brussels sprouts

1 bunch green onions

1/4 bunch Italian parsley

Zest of one lemon

1/2 cup lemon vinaigrette (see below)

For vinaigrette:

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1 shallot, minced

1/4 cup Pernod

1 cup light olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

Trim the end and outer leaves from the Brussels sprouts. Shave using a mandoline slicer.

Wash and slice the green onions on an angle. Wash and roughly chop the parsley. Peel and finely julienne the lemon zest. Combine and toss with lemon vinaigrette.

For vinaigrette: Using a blender, mix together mustard, lemon juice, shallot and Pernod. Gradually add the olive oil while blending. Add seasoning. (This recipe makes 1 cup vinaigrette.)

POTATO, PANCETTA AND BRUSSELS SPROUT SAUTÉ

Serves 10

Teaming Brussels sprouts with potatoes and pancetta brings character to the braised potatoes. The sprouts are shredded, which in addition to shortening the cooking time keeps them fresh tasting and free of any association with cabbage.

Make ahead: The cooking method here is simple, but it does take time to cut up the potatoes and shred the Brussels sprouts. You can prep both vegetables up to a day in advance. Cover the shredded sprouts tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. The potatoes can be peeled and cubed, then stored, covered in water, in the refrigerator.

Recipe from Stephanie Witt Sedgwick for The Washington Post.

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 small onion (4 ounces), finely chopped (3/4 cup)

2 pounds red-skinned potatoes, peeled and cut into approximately 3/4-inch cubes (5 cups)

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup homemade or no-salt-added chicken broth

1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed, cut in half and then into thin slices

Heat the oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta; cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the meat browns lightly. Stir in the onion; reduce the heat to medium and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the onion softens. Add the potatoes; season with salt and pepper to taste, and toss to combine. Pour in the broth.

Increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the broth just starts to boil. Cover the skillet or sauté pan and reduce the heat so the broth maintains a low boil. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Uncover; increase the heat to medium-high and add the sliced Brussels sprouts. Cook, tossing gently, for 3 minutes, until the sprouts are just tender and almost all of the broth has evaporated.

Remove from the heat. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed. Serve warm.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH CARAMELIZED PEARL ONIONS AND MAPLE SYRUP

Prep time: 12 minutes

Total time: 25 minutes

Serves 10

Note: The nuts can be toasted and glazed a day in advance. Store them covered at room temperature. The Brussels sprouts can be quartered a day ahead and kept in a plastic bag lined with paper towels in the refrigerator.

Adapted from Gourmet magazine. Tested by Susan Selasky for the Detroit Free Press Test Kitchen.

3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 to 2 tablespoons maple syrup (adjust for desired sweetness)

1 teaspoon salt, divided

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, discolored leaves discarded, stems trimmed, quartered

1 bag (16 ounces) frozen pearl onions, slightly thawed

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the nuts on a baking sheet and toast them for about 10 minutes or until fragrant and just a few shades darker.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together 1 tablespoon of the butter, the maple syrup and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the maple glaze to the hot nuts and toss to coat.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Add the Brussels sprouts and sauté them for about 5 minutes. Add the onions to the skillet, stir, cover and continue cooking until the onions are slightly golden and the Brussels sprouts are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Uncover, add the salt, black pepper and vinegar and sauté, stirring about 2 minutes. Add the nuts and any glaze in the baking pan and sauté, stirring, 1 minute more. Serve.

Per serving: 156 calories (57 percent from fat);11 g fat (3 g saturated fat); 14 g carbohydrate; 4 g protein; 272 mg sodium; 12 mg cholesterol; 47 mg calcium; 4 g fiber.

 

 


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