"Pot-Stuck" Brussels Sprouts

October 16, 2013

If you're like us, you look to the seasons for what to cook. Get to the market, and we'll show you what to do with your haul.

Today: To get the most out of your brussels sprouts, embrace the parboil. 

Pot Stuck Brussels Sprouts from Food52

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Until recently I had a very tenuous relationship with brussels sprouts.

Roasting them yielded crispy outer leaves, but at the expense of an interior that turned to mush at first bite, with a lingering bitterness. Pan frying soaked up an inordinate amount of oil while risking flavorless, crunchy innards. Slaw was fine, but I obviously do not own a mandoline. So I'd eat the brussels that others made -- especially restaurant sides blanketed in cheese and oil and all other things that make brassicas feel warm and cozy -- but I'd never make them myself.

And then one day, while discussing her new book, Mollie Katzen changed this. She, the O.G. of vegetarian cookery, the author of the beloved Moosewood Cookbook, told me to parboil. 

I generally feel about parboiling the way I feel about dried cranberries: fine for other people, but not to be employed anywhere near my kitchen. Parboiling was for those with too much time. But when Mollie speaks, she smiles, and leans in, like she's telling you a secret you really want to hear. Mollie promised that I could make crispy-not-mushy brussels sprouts. Mollie was right. 

Pot Stuck Brussels Sprouts from Food52

More: Serve your brussels sprouts over another recipe that relies on some special boiling: Genius Polenta.

This is not the obligatory plate of brassicas that wallows on the sidelines of your Thanksgiving table as the potatoes and the gravy and the dressing get first billing. It entices with a crisp, caramelized exterior; it is just as black as it is green. And all it requires are a few extra minutes spent waiting for water to boil, plus two ingredients you already have on hand: an onion and a lemon. They don't even need to be whole.

Boiling the sprouts for just 30 seconds takes away their crunch and their bitterness, leaving you with a vegetable that is softened, mellowed, and ready for action. Then comes the good stuff: Your sprouts lie face down in a hot, thin slick of oil until they turn almost-black. They're best quartered, as more surface area means more flavor. You add a lot of salt.  

Pot Stuck Brussels Sprouts from Food52

Next, you push your brussels sprouts aside and add diced onions to the pan. It sounds like an afterthought, but keeps the onions from burning and turns them into soft, sweet bits that commingle nicely with the sprouts; they cling to each other once finally stirred together. A squeeze of lemon brightens everything up. You're left with a vegetable which is soft, sweet, salty, and crisped in oil, but has not lost its identity. These are still, undeniably, brussels sprouts -- you've just gotten as much out of them as you possibly can.  

"Pot-Stuck" Brussels Sprouts

Adapted from Mollie Katzen's The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Cooking for a New Generation

Serves 2

1/2 pound medium-sized brussels sprouts, quartered
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
A few pinches of salt
1/4 cup finely diced white or yellow onion
1 to 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Eric Moran

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Ella
  • LauriL
  • AntoniaJames
  • mrslarkin
  • pierino
Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull



Ella October 30, 2013
Call me a Philistine, but I microwave my Brussel sprouts! I score them on the base end as if I were cutting them into quarters, but do not cut clear through. Then I microwave them for a few minutes with just a little moisture till barely tender. Then I add butter and/or olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I think they are great. And it is so easy too.
LauriL October 25, 2013
Nice pics Eric!
AntoniaJames October 22, 2013
I did a side-by-side comparison, parboiling half (and I actually cut each Brussels sprout in half, putting one half in one pile and the other in the second pile) and for the rest, using my favorite secret weapon for eggplant and zucchini, which can leave a bitter aftertaste: I brine them, cut, for 5 - 10 minutes before cooking. (This is a tip I first read about, years ago, in my ancient -- circa 1941 -- edition of The Joy of Cooking. I cannot remember for which vegetable Mrs. Rombauer suggests brining (in fact, it may be Brussels sprouts!), but I do know that the light salt water bath works miracles on the structural integrity of eggplant while cooking, and is a lot easier/reliable than salting and draining. But I digress.) The end result: brining produced a sweeter cooked Brussels sprout, and is easier, than parboiling. ;o)
mrslarkin October 23, 2013
AJ, your note reminded me of a great video from Fudehouse on brining tomatoes. The technique is pretty brilliant, and I bet can be adapted for any veggie, including Brussels sprouts. Here is the link: I have a tub of sprouts that I am going to experiment with soon. Will report back!
AntoniaJames October 24, 2013
This is so interesting! It explains why eggplant and zucchini in particular, when brined, have a much more appealing texture than when simply salted and drained. I've always assumed that's because brining distributes the salt more evenly than sprinkling on dry salt, but obviously, drawing moisture out of the vegetables affects its structural integrity. The Brussels sprouts that were brined, by the way, seemed juicier than the ones that were parboiled; they're certainly much juicier than ones I've roasted without brining. I wonder why brining has not caught on? It's not that hard! It's actually easier, to my mind, than salting and draining, and, of course, parboiling. In all fairness, however, the Brussels sprouts I tested -- like those used by the Food52 test kitchen -- were fairly small. But actually, that should not make any difference, given that they recommend cutting the larger ones in quarters. ;o) P.S. I went back to my old, tattered, beautiful early-1940's Joy and it is Brussels sprouts that Mrs. Rombauer instructs us to brine. ;o)
mrslarkin October 26, 2013
I brined my sprouts and they came out delicious! Meant to brine them for 30 minutes, but forgot them, so all in all i think they were in the brine for 1 hr.
AntoniaJames October 22, 2013
This article says that you quarter the Brussels sprouts to get more surface area, and yet the photos suggest that you cut them in half. Are my eyes playing tricks? ;o)
Marian B. October 23, 2013
Good eye! The brussels pictured were so teeny tiny that we decided to keep them halved, but I like them best with medium-sized sprouts that are quartered. They're great either way.
mrslarkin October 16, 2013
I LOVE THAT COOKBOOK! I searched the book from cover to cover and couldn't find where she talks about the "pot-stuck" method, other than the little drawing on the inside cover. Is it anywhere else in the book? Also, I do my cauliflower pretty much this way, by steaming it first. Comes out awesome, with crunchy crisp tasty parts. Thanks for the recipe, Marian.
Kenzi W. October 16, 2013
Love the idea to apply this technique to more than just brussels. (But I'll be cooking these sprouts until I really cannot eat another...)
Marian B. October 16, 2013
In the book they're called Smoky Brussels Sprouts! She uses more spices and less oil (I'm a lush). Now I need to try that cauliflower!!
pierino October 16, 2013
I'm totally down with the parboil method as the first step. But if you search for the tiniest ones you can find it's not always necessary, like if you buy ones no bigger than your thumb nail (or smaller). I guess I still have some trouble understanding the American aversion toward bitterness in vegetables. It's actually relished in Mediterranean countries---just that sharpness which you can't completely rectify with lemon juice. Does this go back to Plymouth Rock and a bunch of sour faced guys in silly hats? The German migration to the Midwest? Remember when Dan Quayle was objecting to American farmers turning to growing Belgium endive as a source of income? Apparently because it was an insidious foreign thing. And of course Brussels is in...
Sietske V. October 16, 2013
Replace that olive oil with some bacon fat and you've got a deal! ;-)
Kristen M. October 16, 2013
These babies combine everything I love about buttery sauteed and crispy roasted brussels sprouts. I'm willing to parboil for that!
SpaCook October 16, 2013
I second that!
fiveandspice October 16, 2013
The blackened cut faces are so key to Brussels sprouts. I've always felt the same way about parboiling, but 30 seconds may be something I could handle.
Marian B. October 16, 2013
It totally is. Bonus: If you use a pot with a built-in strainer, you can boil an egg in the water once you're done. Efficiency!!
Amelia V. October 16, 2013
I want these sprouts right now.