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Vegging Out

imagesJust like the ghost of Christmas past, brussel sprouts are guaranteed to make an appearance in a couple of weeks time whether they are welcome at the feast or not. Never has such an innocuous little vegetable divided the nation the way this one does. Some of us love ‘em and some people are left clutching their pearls in horror at the mere mention of the name.

Nowadays, I rank them amongst my favourite vegetables but thats only since I learnt how to cook them without filling the kitchen with the unmistakeable smell of damp tramp. Most sprout doubters can trace back their phobia to the school canteen where all vegetables were routinely boiled from the crack of dawn until they were served 4 hours later. The difference between badly cooked sprouts and all the other badly cooked vegetables most of us had to endure at school is purely chemical. ‘Glucosinolate Singrin’ to be precise. This is the chemical released by all vegetables from the brassica family (broccoli, cabbage and turnips to name just three members) when over cooked. Cook the brussel sprouts briefly by what ever method you choose and there will be no smelly reminders of the school canteen.

Contrary to popular belief you do not need to cut a cross into your sprouts. In fact, if you do they are more likely to  live up to their reputation and be soggy and over cooked. To prepare sprouts allow a small handful per person and trim off any discoloured outer leaves and then cut in half from top to bottom. Bring a large pan of water to a rapid boil with a tablespoon of salt. Add the sprouts and cook for 4 minutes. While they are cooking take something like a large mixing bowl or clean washing up bowl and put about a third of a bag of party ice in it and then top up with cold water. Drain the sprouts and immediately tip the whole lot into the iced water. Allow to cool fully and drain. The sprouts can be cooked to this stage 24 hours before they are needed which is great for taking the heat off on Christmas day. To re-heat you can either simply microwave them with a knob of butter and plenty of salt and pepper or take a large sautee pan or wok place on a medium high heat and put a walnut sized knob of butter in it. Add some chopped bacon or pancetta and some pre-cooked chestnuts (available vacuum packed from most supermarkets) when both begin to crisp add the sprouts and stir fry until fully heated through.

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