Because they are a staple food to have for the fall season, you need to ensure you have the best sprouts possible. To do that, we need to be prepared not to side-step when it comes to certain things.
Whether you are catering a fall weeknight feast or arranging a casual get-together, there is no seasonal green vegetable better than the sprouts. These delightful mini cabbages are quite easy to prepare and, did we mention, utterly delicious? Here are five common blunders that ruin sprouts (and how you can fix them).
1. Treating Small and Large Sprouts the Same
Sprouts are available in different sizes, and what you purchase makes a difference. Larger sprouts tend to have a strong cruciferous flavor and looser leaves (think the smell you get when you open a jar of sauerkraut). Smaller sprouts are more compact and milder compared to their bigger counterparts. Either version is alright, especially bearing in mind you often don’t have the luxury of choice at the grocery store.
But knowing that they’re different will assist your final product. Larger sprouts (around an inch around or larger) should ideally be halved before cooking. Because they’re somewhat dense, this will allow the inside and outside to cook at roughly the same rate. You need to do this to roast them thoroughly. Smaller sprouts, however, can be cooked whole.
2. Trimming too Much or Too Little
Sprouts are quite low maintenance as far as vegetables go, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t use a little trimming and cutting before you cook them. Trimming them aids in eliminating a part of the woody stem, but it can be tricky to cut them just right. Trim them too much, and the leaves will break away and burn during roasting. If you don’t trim them enough, you’ll be left with chewy ends that no amount of cooking rid you of. So how do you know when enough is enough? Trim the very bottom of the stem right above where the first few leaves are attached. If you lose a few leaves, that is alright. There should be plenty of core left to hold the sprout jointly while leaving the woody stem behind.
3. Choosing the Wrong Type of Heat
Any disparagement you may harbor towards sprouts perhaps stemmed from eating them boiled or steamed. Steaming and boiling require moist heat, and moist heat can lead to sprouts becoming mushy and stinky, which is not a good combo. Give them the treatment they warrant by roasting them instead.
If you want them to be seriously crispy, you need not be afraid of turning up the heat. If you roast them at a low temperature, they will not brown properly. Toss them in a bit of oil with a sprinkle of salt to start them off and roast them in a single layer on a baking sheet in a 425° (or higher) oven.
The outside will caramelize and present them with a sweet note while their texture softens but remains toothsome. If they’re cut in half, roast them with the cut side down to make the most out of their sweet roasted flavor.
Sautéing, another dry heat method is excellent for sprouts too. If you do opt for steaming, just make sure not to overcook the veggies—five to seven minutes should do it. You can also boil the sprouts for a brief period before sautéing them, as in this recipe for sautéed sprouts with Bacon & Onions pictured above.
4. Letting the Sprouts Dry Out
Like soggy and steamed sprouts, sprouts that are chewy and dry are no good either. This could be caused by using insufficient oil for roasting. Olive oil is often a good option, but plain vegetable oil works wonders as well. You need a nice coating of oil—enough to make the heads shiny or if they’re cut, enough oil to get inside the folds of some of the leaves.
Without oil, sprouts don’t brown and soften—they dehydrate. It’s also possible that they simply require more time in the oven. Cooking times differ contingent on their size. A tip of a sharp knife should be able to pierce through cooked sprout very easily. If all else fails and you require moisture stat, then slather them in cheese sauce or cook them in a gratin.
5. Forgetting to Add Meat and Spices (Just Kidding, Sort of)
Despite your best efforts, sprouts can be a tough sell for particular folks. If simply roasting them plain isn’t enough to inspire and impress your guests, consider taking your sprouts to an entirely new level. You can shave them and consume them raw in a salad, peel them apart and roast the leaves individually to make sprout chips or toss them with toasted nuts, dried fruit, cheese or—of course—meat, which happens to make everything a little better and also happens to pair beautifully with sprouts.
Sprouts roasted with merely olive or vegetable oil, salt, and pepper are delicious — but they take to other flavors so well that it would most definitely be a mistake if you do not play around a little every now and then. Toss them around in other spices, dress them up with sauces like honey mustard, or simply add a cheesy touch by coating them with lots of Parmesan cheese. The variations are endless, each tastier than the last.
If you think these delicious mini cabbages are not worth it, perhaps you’ve experienced a sprout that had fallen victim to a cooking mishap. It happens. Give sprouts the treatment they deserve by following the tips mentioned above, and rest assured you’ll feel the love again.