When I was in the third grade I transferred to a school across town. It took less than a day at my new school to understand that there was one kid who was picked on by everyone in the class. I never understood how or why he was designated as the one to bully, and I became friends with him. One day his Chinese mom took us to Boston’s Chinatown, a trip that turned out to be a formative event in the development of Chef Boy Ari. My mind was blown by the strange and exotic happenings in the cramped cafes, open-air markets, stores and bakeries.
At about the same time, I noticed another victim of the cruelty of children. I became aware that, like my poor friend in third grade, brussels sprouts were widely considered to suck. Again, this awareness did not result from any personal negative encounters, but from the passive persuasion of hearing other kids announce their disgust. And since there were no brussels sprouts in my classroom, the judgement was somewhat abstract. Meanwhile, nobody ever warned me about orange marmalade, which appeared one day at snack time. Its effect on young Chef Boy Ari was similar to the smell of vomit.
Despite their bad reputation, I never had a problem with brussels sprouts, though I never went out of my way for them either. The first time I really noticed them as noteworthy was at a Thanksgiving celebration at an Idaho farm. I was able to look up from my dish of delicious buttered brussels sprouts and gaze out the window at the plants themselves, waist-deep in snow in the fields, still bearing brussels sprouts sweetened by the frost.
I remembered that sight last year during seed-ordering time and decided to plant some brussels sprouts in anticipation of my own crop of snowed-in greens.
Everything went according to plan and my brussels sprouts stood green and proud long after the rest of the garden had withered back to earth. In November and December I ate of my brussels sprouts, and it was good. But when I went south for a few months, alas, I abandoned half my crop—or so I thought. When I returned in March there they were, ever so happy to see me, standing proud and vigorous above the snowmelt and still bearing sprouts. A fully loaded rack of sprouts is an impressive sight, and I was happy to see them, too.
A more severe winter would have obliterated the brussels sprouts, but it is completely normal to harvest them into January. If you would like to harvest brussels sprouts next winter, now is the time to swing into action. Local grower Kim Murchison starts her seeds in mid-April, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late. Johnny’s seed catalog (online at johnnyseeds.com) recommends starting brussels sprouts indoors in May, or direct seeding four months before the first expected frost of autumn. I recommend the Oliver variety, which comes to maturity in 80 days.
Here are some recommended highlights from my brussels sprouts recipe trials.
Cardamom brussels sprouts: Toast 1/4 cup slivered almonds in a dry pan until they are golden, and set aside. Wash 1 pound brussels sprouts, cut off the bottoms, and chop them into quarters. Steam until neon green (as opposed to the overcooked shades of sea green, puke green, snot green or military green). In a bowl, mix 1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder, your toasted almonds, a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Toss the steamed brussels sprouts in this sauce and serve.
The next one I found on epicurious.com and modified slightly. More than 30 online viewers claimed that until they tried this recipe they hated brussels sprouts. Thus, it would be a good one to serve in primary school lunches—if it didn’t contain prosciutto, at $18 a pound. (You can also substitute bacon).
Baked sprouts with prosciutto: Wash and trim 1 pound brussels sprouts, cutting the large ones in half. Toss them with 2 ounces prosciutto (or bacon), 2 cloves minced garlic and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Put them in a baking pan with 1/4 cup chicken stock, and bake at 450 until neon green (and until the bacon is cooked…).
Finally, with a nod to my friend the classroom loser: Chef Boy Ari’s Half-Chinese brussels sprouts: Fry a slice of bacon, chopped, in a pan. When it’s half-cooked, add 2 cups of thinly sliced brussels sprouts. It’s amazing how much volume the compact sprouts release when chopped! While that’s cooking, mix together 1/8 cup rice vinegar, 2.5 teaspoons sugar, 1 tablespoon grated ginger, 1 teaspoon sesame oil and 3 tablespoons soy sauce. When the sugar dissolves, stir in 2 tablespoons oyster sauce and set aside. When the brussels sprouts get neon green, kill the heat and stir in the sauce.
So go get some seeds! I know it hurts to be thinking about next winter already, but when those stems poke above the snow, you will be glad you did. So will your kids.