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
2 cups Brussels sprouts
3 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Taste and adjust for salt. Serve immediately.