Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Roasted Brussels Sprouts (without the oven)

I lost track of how many times the question of cooking without appropriate equipment comes up in my classes.  Can I make pie dough without a food processor?  Can I bake pizza without a pizza stone?  Can I braise without a dutch oven?  The answer is yes, of course.  No skill is more valuable in the kitchen than resourcefulness.  So I wasn't at all surprised when the students in my Vegetables class asked me how to roast vegetables without the oven.  "Who doesn't have an oven these days?" might you ask.  Yes, but would you like to turn it on in the middle of a hot and humid summer day if you don't have an air conditioner?

The vegetable I decided to tackle was Brussels Sprouts.  I tossed them with salt, pepper, and olive oil in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet (though you can use any other type of skillet) and turned them cut side down just like I would for oven roasting.  But instead of putting them in the oven, I put them over medium-low heat on the stove top and covered the pan.  My hope was to brown the bottom slowly enough to give them a chance to get tender.  The concepts of covering the skillet and browning seem incompatible at first.  Won't covering the skillet trap the steam?  Yes.  Isn't steam the enemy of browning? Yes.  But it all depends on whether you want to be browning something quickly or slowly.  

Say you want to brown a steak while keeping it medium-rare inside.  You'd better do it as quickly as possible because once the inside of your meat reaches 130F, it's all downhill from there in terms of texture and juiciness (it quickly turns tough and dry).  This is also the case with some green vegetables, like asparagus.  If cooked a minute too long it turns stringy and mushy, so covering the skillet in those cases can be detrimental.  But Brussels Sprouts and most other vegetables that oven roast well (potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, celery root, carrots, peppers, cauliflower, etc) don't have that problem.  If anything, their texture improves with prolonged cooking.  Since stove top browns a lot faster than the oven, covering the skillet can help slow down browning and speed up the cooking of the inside.

After 10 minutes, I flipped my little cabbages, scattered loose leaves around them and cooked until everything was nicely browned.  What a revelation these Brussels sprouts were!  Unlike the oven method, every little piece and leaf was perfectly brown and tender but not at all mushy.  By the time Brussels Sprouts browned in the oven, they often got a tad too soft inside.  It was also hard to make the pieces brown evenly because the outside of the baking sheet cooks a lot faster than the inside.  A large skillet had a similar but reverse problem where the inside of the skillet cooked faster than the outside, but it was a lot easier to baby-sit a skillet on the stove top and rearrange my pieces when necessary than to get a baking sheet out of the oven every time I wanted to move a few pieces.

To tell you the truth, I am not sure if I'll ever oven roast Brussels Sprouts again (even in winter when turning on the oven doesn't pose a problem).  These were just too good.

Pan roasted Brussels Sprouts

Serves 2-3

2 cups Brussels sprouts
3 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
  1. Trim the stems of the Brussels spouts.  Cut each one in half (or into quarters if they are particularly large) and place in a 12 inch skillet (only add as many pieces as a skillet can hold in one layer).  Leave the loose leaves on the cutting board.  You'll add them towards the end of cooking time.
  2. Drizzle sprouts with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Mix thoroughly with your hands to distribute oil and seasoning evenly.  Arrange pieces cut side down in a single layer.
  3. Cover the skillet and set over medium-low heat.  Do not shake the skillet or in any other way disturb the sprouts.  After a few minutes, you should hear gentle sizzling noises.  If you don't, raise the heat slightly.  Regulate the heat so that the first side takes about 10 minutes to brown.  If the skillet seems dry, add more oil.
  4. Flip the sprouts, toss the loose leaves with a little salt, pepper, and oil and spread around the sides of the skillet.  Cover the skillet and cook another 5 minutes.  Uncover the skillet and cook until all the pieces are nicely browned.  If some pieces aren't browning well, move them towards the center of the skillet.  
  5. Taste and adjust for salt.  Serve immediately.


Anonymous said...

I can do this, thanks!

Gretchen said...

This sounds brilliant! Come to think of it, I've done something similar with broccoli when I wanted to brown and steam simultaneously, but never as deliberately or when trying to get so much delicious browning.

I can hardly wait until brussels sprouts come round on the year clock again... and in the meanwhile I might try this with good old broccoli or those delicious little white Tokyo turnips, yum.

Helen said...

Hi Gretchen,

This technique works great with broccoli, but the cooking time will likely be less than with Brussels sprouts. I guess I like broccoli a little crunchy. I like to slice it rather than cut it into florets. This way you get more flat surfaces to brown.

I have tried this method on regular potatoes, so I am sure it will work on Japanese turnips.



recipe club said...

I was just discussing brussel sprouts this past week -- how it truly makes a difference in how they are cooked as to whether I like them or not. I've found a few recipes at my recipe club and I'm going to add this one to the collection.

Virginia O.

Anonymous said...

I always cook my sprouts like this - my favorite way! I like to finish with some sort of hot sauce like sriracha - DELISH

Janelle said...

Hi Helen! Do you remember what you drizzled on top of these in class? I think it was maple syrup + vinegar?

Helen said...

mix about 1/2 tsp of balsamic vinegar and 1-2 tsp maple syrup and drizzle over the sprouts in the last minute of cooking.