Brussels Sprouts
Stem of Brussels Sprouts [B. oleracea Group Gemmifera]

This cabbage grows a large fibrous central stem with large collard-like leaves radiating from it. When those leaves become old they yellow and fall off, and are replaced not by new leaves but by small cabbage heads radiating out from the main stem just above the leaf scar. Cabbages of this type may have been known in Roman times, but they first became a major crop in Belgium around 1590.

These cabbages have long been voted "most hated vegetable" in England, but even there they are becoming more popular as the English slowly learn to cook. The photo specimen stem was 20 inches long and weighed 3 pounds 11 ounces. Individual heads were up to 1-3/4 inches diameter.

More on Cabbage Greens.



Buying:   Brussels Sprouts are sold in most markets and supermarkets, usually as loose heads. Here in California, where most of them are grown, farmer's and produce markets also often sell them by the stem when they are in peak season (late Winter through Spring). Look at the base end, the head should be fairly tight and hard, not stemmy, and there should be a minimum of yellowed leaves, though there will usually be some.

Prep:   Brussels Sprouts are usually not a grit problem, but wash them well by submerging them in cold water because there's often a bugs or two among the stems at the base end. Remove loose or yellowed outer leaves and trim the stem close to the remaining leaves. For some recipes you may cut them in half or quarters lengthwise, never crosswise. For whole sprouts, some cooks cut a cross in the bottom of the stem so it will cook faster with less risk of overcooking the leaves.

Cooking:   Never, Never cook Brussels Sprouts "English Style" (boiled to death). Preferably steam them, but you can also simmer them - just until barely tender - never more (quoth the raven). This is more controllable if they are cut in half or quarters lengthwise (depending on size) before cooking, and they cook faster.

They are also often split in half or quarters, lightly oiled and roasted until just tender. The grower of the stem shown in the top photo provided instructions for charcoal grilling the whole stem.

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