Die, Demon Cabbage, Die! (I Will Make You Like Brussels Sprouts)

Let’s talk about Brussels sprouts.

And yes, it’s Brussels sprouts, not Brussel, because Brussel isn’t a thing, and Brussels is a real place in Belgium, and this is important, historically. Because it was in Brussels that, in 1815, an occultist named Amandine Olivier first conjured these tiny demon cabbages into existence. Amandine got drunk one night on a rare Belgian liqueur called Le Pipi du Diable, and then he cast a 9th-circle summoning spell which brought a woody stalk of sprouts — once used as Baphomet’s walking stick — over through the fontanelle separating our world and the Hell-world, and on this stalk were the first Brussels sprouts.

That’s important to know, because for a very long time, I thought Brussels sprouts were bullshit. I assumed, quite correctly, that they were little demon cabbages. I mean, I was right. They are. They’re like if you took a full-size cabbage, with all its implicit cabbageness, and then you used some kind of magic(k) to compress that cabbageness into something roughly the size of a golf ball. For a long time I had assumed that their best use was to freeze them and slingshot them at your enemies as they besieged your home. I also assumed that if you broke one open, angry fart ghosts would be released to wreak havoc on the world of the living.

But I have since learned that Brussels sprouts are not bullshit.

Well, not always. Most people don’t know how to cook them. I don’t know exactly why, but in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, people didn’t realize that sometimes the best way to treat a vegetable was to SCOURGE IT WITH FLAME, roasting those motherfuckers until they’re crispy and delicious. Instead people steamed vegetables, or worse, boiled them, and it is this latter preparation that plagued many of us, I assume, in our childhoods. Asparagus is a lovely spear of deliciousness, except when you boil it, in which case it becomes less a spear and more a fallen log long gone rotten in the woods. Veggies in this form become mushy, sad things — almost as if they have been pre-chewed in the mouth of a mournful widow.

Thing is, you can still roast Brussels sprouts and they can still turn out a hard, angry, bitter result. They can still emerge from your FIRE BOX still maintaining their demonic veneer. And so, many people — after long having learned to love difficult vegetables — still hold onto the belief that they do not, and will not, like Brussels sprouts.

Not in a box.

Not with a fox.

Not in some socks.

Not with the pox.

And I am here to change that.

And you will thank me.

You will lay a garland of laurels upon my brow, for I will be the champion who has rehabilitated the demon cabbages and given you a new FACE SENSATION inside your FACE. You will like it so much, you will try to send me money, and I will say nay, do not send me money, but buy my books, for I am a humble word-herder, nay, a simple and unassuming penmonkey seeking readers in this dark and tangled world.

Let us begin.

First, you need Brussels sprouts.

I suspect this is already where you resist.

DO NOT RESIST. Go. Get them. If you want the best, wait until the season where your local farmer’s market has them.

You want to buy ones that are not discolored and surly. They should be green and firm, not mushy or brown. They should also not have mouths and eyes. If they have mouths and eyes, the eggs have hatched, and now they are not merely sprouts, but rather, sproutlings, and they will bite off the tips of your fingers and thumbs because that is what they like most to eat.

Also, smaller sprouts are better.

Buy them.

Bring them home.

Show them your knife.

It is vital you show them the knife. You must hold the knife to them and let them know what’s coming. These are demon cabbages. Eggs from the devil’s own cloaca. They must be shown that humans control them — you have summoned them, and only the blade can truly tame them.

Now, cut off any stemmy bits. Up to a quarter inch into the sprout.

Then peel the outer leaves. The outer leaves are the exoskeleton. They are often tough and unpleasant and you must be rid of them. Get to the tender, soft leaf-meats within. One layer is usually good, but if they’re big-ass sprouts, maybe another layer down is necessary.

If the sprouts are small, bisect them.

If they’re larger — say, nearer to a golf ball size — then quarter them.

Scream at them as you cut them. Curse at them.

Then, let them sit and think about the horrors they have wrought.

Now, get your HELL BOX up to temperature.

I go 425, but if your oven runs cooler, go 450.

As the COALS OF HELL begin to fire, it’s time to make our sauce —

Whisk together:

4TB of real maple syrup

3TB of fish sauce

a blob of minced garlic

a bloop of minced ginger

the juice of half a lemon

the juice of half an orange

bit of salt

bit of pepper

four tears from a sad yeti

a bad dream

a good dream

and ten whispered promises that you will break

Already I feel you resisting.

It’s the fish sauce, I know. You’re thinking, why the fuck am I taking delicious maple syrup and mixing it with heinous fish sauce, and you’re right, fish sauce is heinous, if you go by the smell. The smell of fish sauce is like brined corpse-feet. Have you ever seen how they make it? Don’t. Don’t look. Spoiler warning: it’s dead fish. Left to get worse than dead fish already are. Left to break down into liquids. And then they just tap that briny death-keg and — ploomp — there’s your fish sauce. And I know, I know, Brussels sprouts are already bullshit, and now I’m asking you to put rotten fish slurry in there, too?

I am.

Your trust will be rewarded.

(Real-talk: fish sauce also kicks up soup. Chicken noodle soup is amazing with even one tablespoon of fish sauce into the pot. Failing your ability to use and possess fish sauce, you can instead use Worcestershire sauce. Which, ha ha ha sucker, is also fish sauce. But seriously: if you want to take nearly any soup or stew and kick it up a bit with an umami-bomb, use a little fish sauce and use a little sherry vinegar.)

Put this whisked concoction into a small saucepan.

BACK TO THE SPROUTS.

Get them in a bowl. Mix them with olive oil. Get them lubey, like they’re fooled into thinking they’re going to a vegetable orgy. Then, once sufficiently lubed, get them onto a cookie sheet onto some non-stick foil. Sprinkle salt over them.

Roast them for 20-30 minutes.

You want them brown and crispy, but not black and coal-like.

While the demon cabbages are being transformed by the fiery alchemy of your HELL BOX, get that saucepan on the stove, and turn it onto medium heat, and you want to reduce the sauce down — like, what, halfway? I dunno. You don’t want it loose and liquidy — you want it to become syrupy, like the maple syrup once was. Enough to coat the back of a spoon, but not so much that it, well, burns into some kind of napalm tar.

When the sprouts are out of the oven, get them in that bowl.

Then pour your reduced sauce over them.

Mixy mixy mix.

Then shove them into the BONE CAVE that is your MOUTH.

I mean, let them cool down first? Don’t just cram molten-hot Brussels sprouts in there, that’s fucked up, what’s wrong with you.

But once cool, eat them.

And then send me your infinite gratitude.

Oh! Here’s the other thing:

That sauce is also good on other roasted veggies — particularly other cruciferous veggies like broccoli. (They call these vegetables “cruciferous” because they crucified Jesus. It’s true, read your Bibles, kids.) If you want to mix other veggies in with the sprouts, you can: onions in there? Sure. Bacon in there? Sure. (Bacon is too a vegetable, shut up.) Note though that this does not require bacon — bacon, which I love, is also a cheat. You can stick bacon in a lot of terrible things and make them better. No, this recipe is good without it, and it is not required.

But it is nice.

(Last thought: this sauce also does well in fried rice.)

(And you can make it into fried breakfast rice with an egg overtop and Spam in there and okay fine bacon too, just shut up and make it.)

Go eat your vegetables.

And buy my books, thank you.

56 comments

  • This vegan does not eat alien heads. They are pose as brussels sprouts but they are alien heads, and I don’t eat aliens. Even with maple syrup and served by nice men who write books.

    • Technically this recipe isn’t vegan anyway because of the fish sauce, and also because Brussels sprouts are demons.

      BUT, if you could get past that with a fish sauce substitute, these might still be amazing.

    • I used to feel that way, they are so like tiny decapitated heads! But drowned in soy sauce & etc, trimmed up a bit and baked much like this recipe they’re just dandy! A bit of sesame oil dressing can be nice. Plus they had it coming. Revenge is a dish best served well-seasoned and baked.

  • Thank you for promoting the humble brussels sprout! I love them braised in butter with a splash of balsamic vinegar and, if you’re feeling really bold, a garnish of toasted chopped walnuts. You par-boil the sprouts before braising. Cruciferous vegetables are so good for you.

  • March 20, 2018 at 10:47 AM // Reply

    Did you really have to go into graphic, x-rated detail on how fish sauce is made? That bit of ignorance in my life I was truly bliss.

  • I read this to the end, and I didn’t even need convincing to begin with. I saw the light and came to appreciate the sprouts of Brussels about 15 years ago. But I’d not considered the maple syrup angle. Very intriguing. Pair with a pork tenderloin with rhubarb compote? Much gratitude coming your way.

  • We have boiled sprouts as part of our Christmas dinner in the UK. It’s penance for all the other great food we get to eat, but I think I’ll ask my mum to try roasting them this year. Hopefully she’ll still provide all the nice stuff too.

  • This is hilarious. My dad would eat anything edible, and enjoy it, but Brussels Sprouts were forbidden in our house. He would talk about how much he hated those green sprouts of evilness, and how he would starve himself before eating them. So I never tried them till I was 36! They had them once at the cafeteria at work, roasted with garlic and bacon, and I decided I should try them and find out why they were so disgusting to my father’s eyes. I was very surprised to find out that they are actually really good! have tried them with a few more recipes and I liked all of them, but as you say, I have never eat them boiled. I will have to try your recipe!

  • March 20, 2018 at 11:01 AM // Reply

    I am off the boiled Brussels sprouts generation, and can still remember trying to wash those unholy, little bastards down as every layer became milk-logged, sprout water gushers if you dared to chew. I have only recently dated to venture down that path again to be pleasantly surprised. Thanks for the recipe and tips, and laughs.

  • I am a life long demon cabbage hater. I will try this recipe here, and see if I might like the demonic little fellows over there, and if it’s really a heavenly ascension, I will share it everywhere!
    Thank you, great post.

  • Had no idea you have had your way with food, in the kitchen, as well as with words, in whatever room you have your way with them. Am a veggie roaster from way back, but your wrinkle on roasting the little gems from Brussels with sea organisms and tree drool has me salivating. Cheers!

  • Grill them, man. Subject them to open flame. Halved, skewered, oiled, turned frequently for about ten minutes is all the little blighters can stand before they relent and give up their vegetal deliciousness. Or in a little foil pouch for 15ish minutes. With some sesame oil and a dash of soy if one so chooses.

  • Thank you. It is the first day of spring and it is snowing here. I needed this today. Oh…and Brussels are great any way at all. Even raw. Boiling? Not so much. Simmering? Yes. But only for a little while. With browned butter. Thank you–again.

  • Actually … I have to “klugscheiss” (which is german for: I know it better…) (I am from germany) …. Brussel is the real name of the city. Not Brussels. It is called Buxelles in french and Brüssel in german. But the native inhabitants (the people of belgium) call it Brussel. Most of the time. But they all speak three languages, sooo … Sorry. And I already liked Brussel Sprouts which is called Rosenkohl in germany (which would be rosecabbage in english). I love languages ….

  • “They call these vegetables “cruciferous” because they crucified Jesus.” Simultaneously hysterical and heretical! When does your cookbook come out? I would buy it in a hot second.

    • March 21, 2018 at 7:52 AM // Reply

      Can we just repeat this?
      WRITE A COOKBOOK, CHUCK! We know you like to torment and tease food into becoming delicious bits of mouth joy, and we’re fairly certain you can turn a phrase or three.
      So why is HOW I LEARNED TO LOVE THE DEMON CABBAGE not on my shelf (in my kindle)?!

  • I still prefer to avoid all things bitter: anise, ouzo, coffee, tea, hops…

    Thus will continue to avoid those tiny, bitter cabbages. But you’ve got me intrigued with the sauce.

    And Oh! How vegetable are better fried or roaster or anything other than boiled into mush like the asparagus and squash and cabbage and kale I was raised on. Or, you know, half the vegetables my mother tried to force into my diet.

    I ran away from home once to avoid asparagus.

    I think that was the time I learned: if you keep your butt to the wall and fall into tears immediately, you can skip a spanking with a few quick swats to the legs and then get sent to your room. On the FAR side of the house, far from the evils of the mushy, canned asparagus.

    Where you can’t even smell it.

  • I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like Brussels sprouts. Heathens! Your recipe sounds delish. Will give it a try this weekend, and my family can leave the house while I’m cooking them so I don’t have to endure their endless scorn over my adoration of the humble petit chou.

  • March 20, 2018 at 1:16 PM // Reply

    My mother-in-law used to cook Brussels sprouts in a pressure cooker. If dropped on to a plate from a height of six inches, they flatten into a grey-green disc, then they were (in her opinion) cooked to perfection. I take off the outer leaves, cut a cross in the stalk so it cooks as quick as the leaves, then boil mine, but only for a few minutes. Salt in the water combats the bitterness. Then I serve them up with melted butter. Parsnips, of course, MUST be roasted. It’s the law.

  • March 20, 2018 at 1:19 PM // Reply

    I laughed at a least seven times while reading this. You are a funny guy. I will buy one of your books now, because you have won me over. Also, I will try your method on some Brussels sprouts.

  • March 20, 2018 at 1:53 PM // Reply

    we regularly roast brussels sprouts as a side. usually just halve and toss in olive oil and salt, then throw in the oven cut side down at 425 for 20 min. sometimes we toss them in bacon grease instead of olive oil and add bacon and shredded parmesan if we want to be fancy. the outer leaves turn into crispy burnt chips and they’re delicious.

  • I usually roast the hellions with olive oil, salt and pepper, then add Balsamic vinegar at the end. Super tasty! I’ll definitely have to give this recipe a try as well.

  • Thanks for sharing your recipe, Chuck, I just happen to have some Brussels sprouts in the fridge that I was planning to make for dinner. *heads to store for a bottle of brined corpse-feet sauce*

  • I feel like you passed on a terrific opportunity to hurl the word ‘masticate’ into the mix but there’s not need to lower the overall brow of the situation just for cheap laughs.
    I guess this is fine.
    It’s fine.

  • We don’t have yeti’s down under; I don’t suppose we could add a few DreamTime stories? I’ll have to keep this recipe for the visitors, see if they even know what it is they’re getting.

  • I grew up never eating them, and my Mom too. Once when Dad was out of town we bought two Brussels sprouts, steamed them, tried them, spit them out, and said we’d never speak of it again.

    A few years back, a friend made them and I tried some to be polite. I ended up eating all of them and demanding the recipe. I halve/quarter them, cut an onion into chunks, toss with salt/pepper and olive oil, then add a few slices of bacon that have been cut into pieces. Roast the hell out of and then eat the hell out of.

    This sauce is intriguing though. May have to try it!

  • Chuck – did you know that Brussels sprouts are now a lot nicer, even if you just boil them? They’ve been grown to be much, much sweeter compared to those 70’s and 80’s ones. Wouldn’t say they are my favourite veg, but they are nothing like the bitter ones of my childhood Christmas dinners…

  • I like to let the posh supermarket do all the prep for me. Buy a large box of cleaned, halved Brussels Sprouts. Buy a small box of diced onions. Buy a tiny box of diced pancetta. Take them home, cackling.

    Get out a big skillet (I use a giant risotto). Toss in the onions and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Cook on medium-high heat until they start to go translucent. Then chuck in the pancetta and the sprouts. Cook, stirring fairly frequently, on medium heat until the onions and sprouts are browned.

    You could eat them just like that. I tried dumping in a jar of roasted-garlic marinara sauce, and serving with rotini and shaved Parmesan. Found that a satisfying way to get my vegetables.

  • This sounds delicious and worth trying! I’d love to try this sauce in other things too!

    I still maintain that the best to make a sprout hater enjoy sprouts is to GENTLY par-boil them in a shallow pan of water for like, a minute tops, drain them, and sauté them in a pain with a mixture of butter, lemon juice, salt, white wine, and chopped garlic. Toss them around until they’re almost golden brown on the outside. Nice and caramelized. That’s how my mom makes them. And because of that, I’ve always loved brussels sprouts.

  • As an Earthling living out its span in the south of England, I ate many a Brussels sprout when I was but a sproutling. The foster family in which I grew up could have been used as a source of natural gas.

  • The Brussels sprout was developed in the early 1600’s by Belgian agronomists at the request of their government. Belgium is a tiny country and the population is both large and, err, large. There was a serious problem in Brussels on market days when housewives tried to carry home full size cabbages. People would be knocked from the crowded sidewalks into the path of wagons and carts. The government charged the agronomists with developing a mini-cabbage and it solved the problem. I learned this in school. It’s true. It is.

  • I will give it a try, but will only subject myself and not my son to this torture you suggest. I don’t like sulfur it stinks, and sure as hell don’t like eating it trapped in foul little green ball that go ‘slode in my mouth making me gag. Butttt… often times making something a different way will change the flavor profile, so thanks. 😀 Besides I’m a sucker for fish… get it sucker fish? ha-hah Iame, lamy lame! xD

  • LOL! This is great! I like Brussels sprouts so much I even GROW them in my very own garden. And they surrender nicely when you roast them with cubed (Cuban?) sweet potatoes. The sweet of the potatoes cuts the bitterness of the sprouts. Oh, and if you are brave enough to grow them, they taste better if you pick them after a frost. (so does kale, by the way)

    Seriously. Try it. I dare you.

  • Cheers, Chuck! That’s one I haven’t tried yet, so now I have something new to do with them (I usually half-steam them in the microwave and then stir-fry them with garlic and breadcrumbs.) Can we swap out Worcester sauce for fish sauce if we’re in the UK? It’s kind of the same thing – made the same way, but covered up with an innocuous-sounding name so as not to scare us Brits. 😉

  • Please tell me that Food Network is making an offer and that Demonic Delicacies with Chuck is in the offing!

    Oh, and you made me look-up cloaca. I cannot get that out of my head now. Thank you so VERY much.

  • Who else but Chuck Wendig could provide this level of side-splitting entertainment with Brussels sprouts???? Thanks for the laughs, fellow penmonkey. And for the recipe. Sounds awesome. (Though I must admit I am of that strange breed who actually does like them tiny demon cabbages… Perhaps my forebears discovered the flame alchemy early on?)
    Guilie @ Quiet Laughter

Speak Your Mind, Word-Nerds