Basic Blanched Brussels Sprouts

INGREDIENTS:

1 pint Brussels sprouts (10 to 12 ounces)
3 – 4 quarts water
2 tablespoons salt, plus two more
2 quart water ice bath (instructions follow)

METHOD:

In a large pot over high heat, bring the water and two tablespoons of salt to a boil.

While the water comes to the boil, use a sharp knife to trim the bottom of the sprout, remove any discolored outer leaves, then cut the sprout in half through the stem.

When the water comes to a boil, assemble the water bath. In a container large enough to hold three quarts, add enough ice to fill the container half way. Add the second two tablespoons of salt, then fill with cool water. Stir to dissolve the salt. Is the water really cold? Yes? On to the next step.

Add the brussels sprouts to the boiling water. Cook just until the sprouts have turned a brighter shade of green and have lost the raw edge of uncooked vegetables, three to four minutes. If you will be using these as a cold dish or will just be seasoning and serving, cook the sprouts until done, closer to four or five minutes. If the sprouts will be returned to a pan for caramelizing, stop the cooking just when they change color and lose the raw taste.

If you are going to serve these immediately with just some seasoning, drain and use. For all other preparations, drain the sprouts at the appropriate stage and immerse them in the waiting ice bath to  arrest the cooking.

When cold, drain the sprouts thoroughly. They are now ready for further use, such as sauteeing, caramelizing, adding to pastas, or turning into cold dishes.

CHEF NOTES:

  • Brussels sprouts are excellent served cold as a salad. For this, when the sprouts have cooked until they almost done, remove from the boiling water and dip them quickly into the ice bath to take the heat out, but do not chill completely. While the sprouts are still warm, put them into a large bowl and drizzle some of your favorite vinaigrette, very cold, onto the sprouts with a pinch of good large crystal salt, and toss to coat evenly. The cold dressing should cool the sprouts the rest of the way as they finish cooking from the residual heat. As they cool, they will absorb the dressing. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use. They should keep a day or two.
  • If you are going to cook the sprouts further, say in a sauté or add to a braise, cook them long enough to turn them bright and just cook them through. Once cold, either put in the refrigerator, or cook them right away.
  • Brussels sprouts lend themselves to many variations; sauté in olive oil with some garlic and herbs, then remove from the pan and add balsamic vinegar and minced garlic to the pan. Deglaze the pan and stir to combine with the oil to make a sauce. Add the sprouts back in to coat and sprinkle with some minced rosemary, and serve. This same sort of technique is used with all sorts of ingredients – use white wine, different vinegars (try a fruit vinegar and add dried berries and nuts like raspberry vinegar with cranberries and almonds), even maple syrup. To caramelize the sprouts, put them into a bowl and add a drizzle of oil. Toss to coat evenly, then sprinkle a pinch of sugar over them and toss again. Add to a medium-hot pan and cook until the edges are nicely browned.
  • You can also skip the sugar and use a little stock and butter to achieve a similar effect. If using the sprouts in a braise, add them to the dish a few minutes before serving, say seven to ten minutes prior–long enough to warm through and pick up some of the flavors of the braise, but not long enough to overcook them.
  • The reason for using a lot of water for the blanching process is so you do not lose your boil. If you do not have enough hot water, the addition of the colder ingredients (in this case the sprouts) will stop the boiling, and then you will not be blanching, you will be slow cooking. This results in soggy, dull, overcooked and smelly Brussels sprouts, or sprouts that are cooked on the outside and raw in the center. This principal of using enough water to maintain a boil is an important one in the kitchen to remember as it can prevent things like pasta that is unevenly cooked or stuck together, among other things.
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