Whatever my husband Dave and I disagree on in our daily lives, we can always fall back on one thing we have in common: we both hate Brussels sprouts.
I thought this was universal–surely at least 99.9% of all children view Brussels sprouts as the ultimate evil–but apparently some people do grow out of this. Dave and I have always been fairly open minded about food, and we tried to raise our three children that way. Our rule is “You don’t have to finish everything on your plate, and we certainly can’t make you like everything, but you have to taste everything or you don’t get dessert.” This worked quite well. Tim, at age 5, astounded his great uncle Riley when he happily ordered and ate a spinach salad in a restaurant. In following the Try It Rule myself I have gradually taken most items off my Won’t Eat No Matter What List. Brussels sprouts remain firmly in first place.
Well-meaning friends keep telling me how to make them taste better, and I have tried many ways of preparing them. I buy them fresh, still on the stalk. I’ve tried cutting a cross on the bottom of each or cutting the ends off to let the bitterness out. Blanching and roasting is said to bring out the sweetness. Drowning them in garlic butter and heaping bacon and cheese over them helps, as does shredding them for cole slaw or dousing them in maple syrup, teriyaki sauce, cream sauce, or olive oil. (Unfortunately, most of those methods compromise the health benefits of the Brussels sprouts.) I recently tried a side dish of Brussels sprouts roasted with dried cranberries, carmelized onions, and chestnuts at the Hotel Wilshire in Los Angeles. I almost liked that one.
Googling “Brussels Sprouts +bitterness” just now returned 629,000 results. I learned from Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and lore of the Kitchen, that Brussels sprouts contain very high levels of a group of chemicals called glucosinolates: ‘One of the major types (sinigrin, also the major mustard precursor) tastes bitter itself but produces a non-bitter thiocynate, while the other (progoitron) is non-bitter but produces a bitter thiocynate. So whether we cook sprouts rapidly to minimise the production of thiocynate, or slowly to transform all the glucosinolates, the result is still bitter.’ He advises slicing and boiling to remove both chemicals. My favorite set of tips, on the Livestrong website, begins: “Step 1. Pick your home-grown Brussels sprouts after the plant has survived a few morning frosts.” Right.
For some reason, Dave and I got to talking about the Brussels sprouts issue last night at dinner. I had just come home from a church committee meeting where we had talked with a couple of outside consultants about a sticky political issue. Our committee has been wrangling with this for several months now, trying to decide among several ways of dressing up a possible solution to make it more palatable to the congregation. My mind was still deep in the committee discussion when something Dave said jumped into the middle of my thoughts: “It doesn’t matter how you prepare Brussels sprouts or how you try to disguise them, they still taste bad.”
Sometimes it’s best to accept that.