Brussels Sprouts: Chou de Bruxelles à l’Oignon au Gratin
Living in a 4th story walk up isn’t exactly convenient when it comes to grocery shopping. In fact, the hamstring-pulling, lung-burning exercise renders even the most healthiest man into a gasping TB patient. From bags of beans to onions to kilos of potatoes, the two of us found ourselves in quite a bad way on Sunday with a copious amount of groceries all made miserable by a Saturday night out at the disco. Forget the building polices of locking the doors behind you, just keep up-and-up Sisyphean tenants without stopping. “This is getting old,” I moaned.
Grocery bags littering the kitchen terracotta tile, I began to stack the fridge with all fresh dairy, vegetables, and meats for the week. When I opened the vegetable drawer however an orphaned bag of Brussels sprouts lie there. “Eugh,” I groaned. For one, I am nor have I been in my life a fan of Brussels sprouts (or even the city of Brussels while I am thinking of it). I had memories of overcooked balls of bite-sized cabbages, flavorless vegetable croquettes like mush ideal for either a nursery or nursing home. Number two, and to be completely fair, I had never cooked them in my adult life but rather fell victim in various European restaurants as it is the popular protein side-kick veg. Eating them wasn’t exactly comparable to being a contestant on Fear Factor, but to boil this down “no, thanks,” I do declare.
Well then how did they end up there in the first place if you despise them so much you may ask; I didn’t buy them so point the finger at my better half, the European husband who knows exactly how they should be prepared and most importantly how they should taste. He grew up with them as most Europeans do. He also is a vegetarian. That said, he is a “double coupon” on this dish. “Ok..so,” I listlessly thought. Well now is no better of a time than to learn how to do something fantastic and package them into something we both could love. Let’s do them the French way and also have them out of the fridge, shall we?
The first thing about Brussels sprouts you should know is that they should be bought without their leaves coming unraveled. In short, they should be tight balls of small cabbages. Secondly, buy them all at the same size so they cook consistently. Give them a good wash and remove any loose leaves. Before cooking, slice off almost all of their stem and remove any dirt. I have learned lately that I like to steam my Brussels sprouts and toss them with grated fresh garlic, lemon, and EVOO but they are also very attractive when roasted with EVOO, lemon, and shallots.
Remember like all vegetables Brussels sprouts run the risk of overcooking. Keep your eye on them and serve them aldente; soft on the outside but still with a crisp bite on the inside. Keep them green and shock the cooking process by running them under a cold stream of water or in an ice bath if not serving immediately.
For today’s dish, I wanted to something a bit more elegant and prepare them like a main course for the two of us. I had made the week’s vinaigrette so a salad seemed in order and we had also come home with fresh French baguettes. “Perfect,” I thought. I also have some homemade dough in the fridge. Bingo.
So did I turn my loathing of Brussels sprouts around this week? Oh, you bet I did. The secret, besides learning how to cook correctly, is to turn something you might overlook but couple it with a technique you do love. For me, it is sauces. A sauce to compliment their original, organic flavor. Perhaps attempt a vegetable you don’t like with an amazing glaze or marry it with another vegetable or two; you will be surprised how much you can redeem the unredeemable.
Check out my French take on them served in a velvety Mornay cheese sauce, dappled with caramelized onions, and blanketed under a thick brown golden crust.
Chou de Bruxelles à l'Oignon au Gratin
A french take on this classic vegetable
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- 1 pound Brussels Sprouts, cleaned and halved
- 1 large onion, diced
- 3 1/2 tbsp butter
- 4 1/2 tbsp flour
- 2 cups of tepid milk
- 1 1/2 cup nutty Swiss cheese or blend of Swiss and cheddar
- 3 drops Tabasco or cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- Speck of nutmeg
- Salt and freshly-cracked pepper to taste
- Pastry dough
- 1 egg
- Caramelize the onions (appx. 30 - 40 minutes), stirring frequently on low heat
- Preheat oven to 350 F / 175 C and set rack in the middle. Butter a medium-sized casserole dish
- Wash and half the Brussels sprouts, removing loose and/or spoiled leaves
- Steam the sprouts until they are aldente - soft on the outside but still crisp inside. When finished, immediately shock them in a cold ice bath to stop the cooking process; set aside. Salt and pepper for taste and squeeze lemon juice over top
- Melt butter and flour on medium heat and whisk until it forms a paste. Add tepid milk and stir off heat until the Béchamel sauce thickens
- Add nutmeg, salt and pepper, cayenne/hot sauce and combine
- Fold in caramelized onions and combine
- Add cheese and return to the heat source if necessary to melt the cheese entirely
- Add 1/4 of your sauce to the bottom of the baking dish and add a layer of sprouts. Add more sauce and repeat until you have filled your dish
- By using a floured surface, roll out your dough into the shape of your dish and carefully cover your sprouts. Tuck in the sides completely and create slits for the heat to escape. Use extra dough to decorate
- Finish by combining 1 egg with 1 tsp water and create an egg wash. Using a portion of your wash, stroke the dough to cover all surfaces modestly but evenly
- Bake in the oven for 30 - 40 minutes until your dough is golden brown and the sauce has begun to bubble around the sides
- Remove from the oven and let cool at room temperature for at least 5 minutes before serving
- Serve as your vegetable side or as a main course with a fresh salad and baguette
The Bell Kitchen http://thebellkitchen.com/