Perfect Brussels Sprouts (with sherry vinegar and Parmesan)

November 19, 2010 § 9 Comments

One of the things I love the most about commuting by bike or by foot, is the opportunity it gives you for just noticing.  There are all sorts of little details, snippets and suggestions of interesting things afoot, all around that you simply miss if you aren’t out in the open air and moving at a decently leisurely pace.

The older man in the bowler hat, who wears it with such stately confidence you just know he was part of the British Gentry in another life.  Another man who has – brilliantly – attached an air horn to his bicycle.  The intrepid birds that are planning to stick it out for the winter, and a cardinal who seems to have forgotten he was supposed to go south, but who is glowing such a brilliant crimson he might be able to stay warm through the sheer strength of his color.  Dry, crunchy leaves that swirl across your path and when you peer more closely at them, you can see that someone has stamped them with, “to report a fallen leaf:…” plus a web address.  And a knobbly old tree whose trunk looks just exactly like an elephant leg and whose bare branches are extremely reminiscent of a nerve cell, but when you put them together the whole thing looks remarkably like, well, a wise old tree.

Little things like these can make my day.  And noticing them gives each moment a sense of importance and spaciousness, which is something I’m really trying to focus on, especially as we near Thanksgiving, and the whole holiday season which is a time of year that is both hectic and wonderfully packed with precious moments and people.

And of course, everything in life seems to have its correlary in cooking.  A dish can be incredibly simple, but little details, a pinch of this or a splash of that, can turn it into something particularly lovely.  That’s the case with these Brussels sprouts.  They were actually Joel’s creation, and I really can’t take any credit for them. But I can share them!  Last weekend we were visiting friends who are excellent cooks and have a similarly excellent collection of cookbooks.  One of them was lying out on the kitchen table and Joel flipped it open to reveal a gorgeous photo of Brussels sprouts.  “Let’s eat that.”  He declared.  And suddenly Brussels sprouts were on the dinner menu and Joel was in charge.  His approach, which involved cooking the Brussels sprouts on pretty high heat until the outsides lightly charred, may have been accidental, but the results were delicious.  The thin, crispy, smokey crust that developed on the sprouts added a fabulous accent to their natural sweentess.  The butter and salt lends them some of the irresistible richness of a bucket of popcorn.  And just a little splash of sherry vinegar acts as a tangy counterpoint and prevents them from tasting heavy.  Searing the outsides and then adding a splash of water to very briefly steam them, makes sure that you have Brussels sprouts that are tender, but not overcooked.  I won’t be surprised at all if these make their way onto our Thanksgiving table.  In fact, I’ll be thankful :).

Perfect Brussels Sprouts (serves 4)

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts (preferrably small ones), cleaned and halved lengthwise
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter, plus a little more if necessary
  • 1-2 splashes of sherry vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1-2 tablespoon Parmesan, plus more to taste
  1. In a very large sautee pan, heat the butter over medium-high until it is melted and bubbling. Put the Brussels sprouts into the pan, cut sides down. Leave them to cook without stirring them around for several minutes (3 or so), until the cut sides of the sprouts have developed a dark brown crust. Then flip them all.
  2. If the pan is totally dry, at this point, add another little pat of butter. Cook the rounded sides of the sprouts for about 1 minutes, then pour in the water and turn the heat down to a high simmer, to let the Brussels sprouts cook through. Also, sprinkle them liberally with salt and pepper.
  3. Once all of the water has evaporated off, splash the Brussels sprouts with a little sherry vinegar and toss them. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan.

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