Last Chance Foods: Invasion of the Brussels Sprouts

Friday, February 17, 2012

Brussels sprouts are everywhere. The John Dory Oyster Bar serves them with mushrooms, pancetta and cheese. Ilili in the Flatiron District takes a Mediterranean spin and adds mint yogurt, fig puree, walnuts and grapes. Brussels sprouts were so popular at Momofuku Noodle Bar that chef David Chang took them off the menu — he didn’t want to dedicate the manpower necessary to keep up with demand.

Looking at New York restaurants these days, it’s hard to believe that the cruciferous winter vegetable ever got a bad rap. But up until the last 15 years or so, Brussels sprouts were often sad, overcooked, bitter little cabbages.

Chef Sara Moulton, whose PBS show Sara’s Weeknight Meals is in its second season, explains that it is all in the preparation. “Everybody overcooks them,” she said, adding that she used to studiously avoid them. “They’re like the smallest member of the culinary dirty diaper family. You know, they’re in the crucifer family and the thing with any crucifer, be it broccoli or cauliflower or cabbage of any kind, if you over cook it, it stinks.” 

Moulton still remembers the dish that made her a Brussels sprouts convert. In 1996, during the early days of the Food Network, she overheard The Two Hot Tamales, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, discussing a quick and easy way of  making sprouts. The recipe involved shredding the Brussels sprouts and sautéing them quickly in olive oil. “Back then it seemed very novel, now I think it’s pretty common,” Moulton said.

Now, Moulton still makes them that way for her own family. “One way to get them to cook through quickly and to not overcook them is to shred them, but shredding them can take time,” she said. So instead, she drops Brussel sprouts into her food processor. A few spins through the shredding disk attachment, and they’re ready for a quick toss in a pan. She often counters the natural bitterness of the sprouts with the addition of ingredients like Balsamic vinegar, pine nuts, walnuts or Parmesan. Shredded Brussels sprouts can even be dressed and eaten as a raw salad.

When selecting Brussels sprouts, Moulton is a fan of buying them on the stalk because it can be a sign of freshness. The stalks are also a novelty because of how strange the look. “I always thought they sort of looked like the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” she said with a chuckle.

Moulton says to look for Brussels that are firm with tightly wrapped leaves. “The good news about Brussels sprouts is that they are a... fall-winter vegetable so that when you buy them at the farmers market, they’ve been sitting in the cold,” she said. “In the summer time, when we buy corn, and it’s been sitting there for hours in the 90-degree heat, it’s deteriorating.”

Once home, Moulton does a minimum of prep work: She just trims the ends and gets rid of the blemished outer leaves. The former Gourmet test kitchen director says that she has no preference on size, but does add that there is one advantage with the larger sprouts. “If they’re bigger, it takes less time to prepare them, so that would be a plus for the bigger ones,” Moulton said. “But, hey, I think they’re all good.”

Below, try Moulton’s recipe for Sautéed Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta.

Sautéed Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta
Servings: 6-8

  • 1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 ounces pancetta (or bacon), finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano (shaved into strips)

1. Trim the Brussels sprouts and discard any damaged outside leaves.
2. Using a food processor, force the sprouts a few at a time through the chute with the blade in motion. You should have about 8 cups of shredded sprouts.
3. Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring often, until very lightly browned 3-5 minutes. Add the sprouts and cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes.
4. Pour in the vinegar and increase the heat to high. Season with salt and pepper and stir until the vinegar has evaporated. Top with cheese.


Sara Moulton

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Comments [8]


Thank you Sarah - I've been shredding them in a processor for a long time now and it makes for better and more even cooking cooking - no more green/grey balls of over done on the outside and little rocks on the inside.

Feb. 19 2012 09:12 AM
barbara from Queens

We just toss them with olive oil and roast them with a few cloves of crushed garlic. They are fabulous. Depending on size (and time) I leave them whole or (if they are large and I want them done sooner) I just cut them in half. I cook them at 400 degrees for about 1/2 an hour - until the outside gets slightly browned. Then toss a bit of salt and its done. I have also added roast chestnuts, which are terrific with them.

Feb. 18 2012 11:32 PM

Moulton, really? you're a chef? Brussel sprouts aren't bitter, AND they don't need to be shredded. Why go thru the trouble and why destroy the sprout? As Philly says, just cut them in half, with garlic, high heat. That's how we all do it. They get the crispy on a side and don't really pull apart. Don't be so boring with pureeing everything

Feb. 18 2012 05:07 PM
jack-o from Philly

Low cal and healthy? Here ya go:

Trim and clean the little guys, then slice them in half.

Put them in a steamer that's already hot, steam them until they just start to turn light green - better not enough than too much.

Pull them off the heat, put them in iced water for a few minutes to stop them from cooking any more. Then drain them.

Sweat chopped onions and garlic in as much olive oil as seems low cal and healthy (just kidding...use a bunch!) until they start to turn translucent, use a nice heavy pan at low heat.

Next, turn the heat up to high, and toss your blanched sprouts in. They should sizzle and snap, toss them about once every minute so that they get a little brown but don't burn. Toss them too much and they'll fall apart, but they'll still taste good.

Salt and pepper to taste, served with rice this is an entree - Cheers!

Feb. 18 2012 01:39 PM
marcintosh from CT

As a bitter individual, I can enjoy them over cooked. In fact the twinge of bitterness is a great contrast to the usual everyday sometimes sameness.

Feb. 18 2012 01:17 AM

Slice up bacon into a frying pan and start cooking.
Slice a onion and throw into pan with cooked bacon (do not remove bacon or fat).
Cut brussel sprouts in half and throw in the pan with the onions and bacon.
Add a little water to steam and do not allow to burn. Do not overcook brussel sprouts. Enjoy :)

Feb. 18 2012 01:05 AM
Peter M

The recipe sounds good but cooking anything in oil and adding bacon, cheese and spices will be good. What about a low calorie, healthy but tasty use of sprouts?

Feb. 18 2012 12:58 AM
Mp3 from NY

care to fix the audio? cheers

Feb. 17 2012 10:37 PM

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About Last Chance Foods

Last Chance Foods covers produce that’s about to go out of season, gives you a heads up on what’s still available at the farmers market and tells you how to keep it fresh through the winter.


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