These little green power balls are on a roll.
Renowned for their nutrition as well as their sweet, nutty flavor, Brussels sprouts seem to be popping up all over restaurant menus, and their popularity is extending as well to home kitchens, thanks to innovative packaging and marketing.
Milder than cabbage, Brussels sprouts still make a strong statement on the plate and need other robust flavors for balance. As a side dish or ingredient, this winter vegetable complements meaty or full-flavored entrees, but tends to overpower delicate fish or mild chicken dishes.
But as more chefs discover Brussels sprouts, expect their popularity to continue to climb.
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“Food trends start in restaurants,” noted Diana McClean, marketing director for Ocean Mist Farms, a major vegetable producer in Castroville. “People taste it and they want to try it at home. Shoppers also want something easy and nutritious. You now can buy (pre-packaged) Brussels sprouts and have fresh vegetables on your plate in minutes.”
Ocean Mist has been growing Brussels sprouts since 1924. Fields of Dr. Seuss-style stalks line the roads near its Monterey County packing plant and cooling facility.
McClean has been impressed by what chefs do with Brussels sprouts.
“Roasted Brussels sprouts are very popular right now,” she said. “We’re also seeing a lot of sauteing and grilled Brussels sprouts, which are easy to do at home, too. Restaurants are ‘flash frying’ Brussels sprouts leaves, crisping them up and offering them with dip like chips.
“You can put the whole stalk with its sprouts on the barbecue and roast it,” McClean said.
Most consumers today want their Brussels sprouts with less fuss, she said. Ocean Mist recently introduced a full product line of “Season & Steam Brussels sprouts,” aimed at making this vegetable more convenient for home cooks. “Quick Cook Sprouts” are pre-halved and trimmed, cutting down on preparation time. “SuperShreds Superfood” takes the chore out of shredding Brussels sprouts for slaw, salads and stir fries. Microwavable whole Brussels sprouts come packaged, ready to zap (and eat in five minutes).
Those are “value-added” Brussels sprouts, McClean said, and that’s helped this vegetable’s overall appeal to consumers.
“We’ve seen bulk sales of Brussels sprouts climb steadily from 2010 to 2014,” she said, “but value-added Brussels sprouts are outpacing bulk.”
McClean credits millennials for the pre-halved and trimmed Brussels sprouts trend.
“Baby boomers will still spend time in the kitchen, but millennials want fresh, gourmet, healthy food — fast!” she explained. “Everything comes at the speed of light now. If you can cut time in the kitchen and not pick up fast food for dinner, it’s pretty awesome.”
ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH BACON
Chef Tony Baker of Montrio Bistro created this restaurant-style recipe for Ocean Mist Farms.
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
4 slices double-smoked or hickory-smoked thick-sliced bacon, diced
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups white balsamic vinegar
3 cups olive oil
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove the bottom (stem end) of the sprouts and trim off one layer of outer leaves. In a medium pan, add the diced bacon and lightly brown. Strain off most of the fat and set the bacon to one side.
Add the Brussels sprouts to the pan and toss with the remaining bacon fat. Roast the sprouts in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes until tender.
Make vinaigrette: Place yolks, mustard, shallot and vinegar in a blender. On medium speed, slowly add the oil; if the consistency is too thick, add a little water. Add salt and pepper to taste. (You’ll have more than you need for the sprouts.)
Toss roasted sprouts with bacon and some white balsamic vinaigrette and serve.