Dining a la King: Why Brussels sprouts are rolling onto fall menus

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By: Marshall V. King
mking@flavor574.com

Marshall V. King/Flavor574

You can call them “little green balls of death.”

You can call them delicious.

Brussels sprouts are turning up on all sort of fall menus in northern Indiana. A Brussel sprout is a tiny cabbage that grows on a stalk with a bunch of others. They’re part of the cabbage family and have a chemical makeup that:

  1. Makes the cooking aroma fairly unmistakeable.
  2. Puts them in the same category as broccoli, which scientific studies show kids tend to hate.

There are people who hate the little green orbs with a passion which is usually reserved for spiders or drivers who go too slowly in the left lane. Those people likely had poorly cooked Brussels sprouts as a kid and now have sworn they will be enemies forever.

Enter the fall menus and the plates coming out of kitchens. Chefs in the 574 are using Brussels sprouts. They’re not abusing them into being the slimy, overcooked vegetables of our past.

At Evil Czech Brewery & Public House, chef Drew Sachau and his team are taking Brussels sprouts and putting them in a pan so hot they don’t add the oil ahead because it’d catch fire. The charring puts a black edge on the sprouts and changes the pH, said Sachau. That gets rid of some of the flavor that some find so objectionable.

Brussels sprouts will probably never be the cool kid that pumpkin is.

Pomagranate molasses, a sweet and sour syrup made from the red fruit, goes into the dish as well as nuts and great bacon from Smoking Goose in Indianapolis. Simply put, the dish is amazing and is what a restaurant should be doing: preparing food in a way we couldn’t easily at home. I’ll let Sachau and his crew worry about whether the smoke detectors go off so I don’t have to.

This is a new item on the fall and winter menu. There’s also a chinoise salad in which Brussels sprouts are shaved and put with other greens, apples and smoked duck. The salad has crisp greens and a body that many salads don’t have, but one this time of year should. If you’re eating iceberg, it’s not a fall salad.

At Artisan, Chef Ryan Wilson and his team clean them, peel off some outer layers, blanch the split hearts and shock them with cold water to retain the bright color. They’re then sauteed with brown butter with the outer leaves and plated. He joked that they take a bit more care than just splitting and roasting in the oven.

At Iechyd Da Brewing in Elkhart, the two specials Friday featured Brussels sprouts.

A salad had roasted Brussels sprouts and a pizza had sprouts with bacon, cheese and onions. Owner Summer Lewis said the ingredient is available this time of year and people are ordering the items with it. It’s fall and it’s what’s available that’s fresh, she said.

The pizza there was good, but is trumped by the one at Venturi in Goshen, where Brussels sprouts go on top of the dough with fresh mozzarella, pancetta and a few other ingredients before going into the 900-degree, wood-fired oven. The heat transforms the vegetable into something big and smoky and yet stays crisp in a way few things that were harvested from the ground could. It’s not available at the moment, but could be soon, said owner Troy Pippenger.

They’re not on the regular menu yet, but I fell in love with the Brussels sprouts sauteed to get a bit of dark color and served with a Thai vinaigrette at Goshen Brewing Co. last week. Chef Jesse Shoemaker loves playing with Asian flavors and this slightly sweet vinaigrette picked up on how you can pickle Brussels sprouts. These aren’t, but GBCo. made a step in that direction.

At Evil Czech, the crew is sauteeing sprouts with bacon. If you’re making them at home, sauteeing is probably the best way for a home cook to learn how to make them. Buy some fresh at a farmers market or grocery store, clean them by trimming off the tough ends and cook them in a skillet. Bacon, nuts, apples and Parmagiano Reggiano cheese will help them. Former Goshen resident Paul Shetler Fast and his spouse, Rebecca, have a simple and lovely recipe on their Hungry Hounds blog.

Brussels sprouts will probably never be the cool kid that pumpkin is. They won’t be as beloved. But people are learning that if you cook them right, they aren’t slippery. They have a deep green flavor and because they’re tightly wrapped greens, they’re actually difficult to overcook unless that was your intent.

I didn’t grow up with Brussels sprouts, therefore I never learned to despise them. When friends started making them and putting them in front of me, they were good and I fell in love. This year, four stalks grew in my garden.

They can take heat and big flavors. Chefs are putting them forth in a variety of ways. With their various preparations, they’re reclaiming a food that had dubious standing. That’s what restaurants and chefs should do.

I’m hungry. Let’s eat.

Marshall V. King is food columnist for Flavor 574 and community editor for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, mking@flavor574.com, and on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
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