Brussels sprouts are among the most maligned vegetables on the plate. Like other members of the cabbage family, which includes broccoli and cauliflower, these small veggies are nutritional powerhouses. But they also have big flavors and can taste bitter and sulfuric, perpetuating their reputation as a dreaded addition to any meal. Reduce the bitterness and enhance the natural sweetness of brussels sprouts by carefully selecting your sprouts, preparing them properly and adding the right seasonings to balance their strong flavor.
Select small brussels sprouts that are dense and feel heavier than they look. Look for stem ends that look freshly cut and leaves that are compact. Smaller, fresher sprouts have the mildest flavor.
Use a sharp knife to trim the stem before removing the outer leaves of each sprout. Cut the sprouts in half or cut an "X" into the stem, which can speed up the cooking, while also helping to lessen their bitterness.
Soak the sprouts in cold water for 10 to 15 minutes. While they are soaking, put a medium or large pot of water on to boil. Once the water is boiling, add salt to the water, then add the brussels sprouts.
Blanch the sprouts by cooking them in the boiling water for roughly two minutes. Drain and place them in ice cold water. Let them sit for about five minutes, then drain them again.
Season the sprouts to combat bitterness. Add flavors that help balance the bitterness and effectively remove the unpleasant flavor that can develop. Choose sweet ingredients, such as maple syrup, honey or fruit juice; sour ingredients, such as rice wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar or freshly squeezed citrus; and salt, applied directly or by using a salty substance, such as bacon.
Steam, roast or saute the brussels sprouts until they are fork-tender, with a fresh green color. Avoid overcooking them, which enhances bitterness and their sulfuric taste and smell.