Brussels sprouts are at the farm market fresh from early fall to early spring.
But the tastiest Brussels sprouts come on the market after the first good frost of the year. If you poke your head outside or look at the weather map, that means you are going to find fresh, great tasting Brussels sprouts just about everywhere right now.
The Brussels sprout resembles a small cabbage and it grows in the leaf axils of the plant’s upright stems. Each stem—which can grow to about 3 feet (1 m) tall–can bear as many as 20 to 40 sprouts or heads. (A sprout or head is really a green bud.) At the market, you might find individual sprouts or whole stems covered with sprouts. A tender, harvestable sprout will be ¾-1½ inches (2-4 cm) in diameter.
Brussels sprouts can be juicy and sweet and slightly assertive or tough and harsh. Obviously, juicy and sweet is best. Sprouts that are smaller and fresher will be the tastiest.
Selection. When you are at the market, choose buds that are small, firm, compact and bright green. (Avoid sprouts that are yellowed, puffy or wilted.) The color should be uniform and so should the size. If you choose sprouts that are all the same size, they will cook through at the same time. But don’t forget that Brussels sprouts picked young and fresh can be sweet enough to serve raw in a salad.
Two Brussels sprouts varieties that are considered the sweetest are Prince Marvel and Rubine Red. Rubine Red has purple leaves and sprouts.
When you buy Brussels sprouts, do so with the intention of serving them within a day or two. You can store them in the refrigerator in a plastic container with a paper towel, but even fresh sprouts will turn bitter within a few days of harvest.
As you might imagine by looking at them, Brussels sprouts are a subspecies of the common cabbage. Some cookbooks and produce guides don’t even list Brussels sprout separately; they lump them together with cabbage.
Cooking. Preparation is the key to serving good tasting Brussels sprouts that have been cooked.
Brussels sprouts can not be undercooked but they can be overcooked. If they overcook, they will turn mushy.
Brussels sprouts can be boiled whole or you can halve or quarter or slice them to cook them quickly and uniformly. For a mild flavor, cook them in salted water. For the distinct Brussels Sprout taste, steam them.
Brussels sprouts can be boiled in about for 8 to 12 minutes. When steaming or braising allow about 15 minutes. The key to cooking Brussels sprouts is to taste them often while they are cooking. They should be served slightly crunchy and the flavor should be delicate.
A tradition in Belgium is to cook Brussels sprouts with peeled chestnuts.
Trivia. If you are wondering about the name: yes, Brussels sprouts are named after the city in Belgium. Some say that Brussels is where these sprouts really caught on culinary speaking sometime in the thirteenth-century. Others say this vegetable got its start in Italy and came to Northern Europe with the Roman legions.
We do know that Thomas Jefferson planted them in his garden in 1812. And that the first mention of Brussels sprouts in a cookbook came in England in 1845.