Brussels Sprouts, nothing divides the family at Christmas quite like them. I’m not sure that any other veg consistently arouses quite a reaction: ‘urghhh'; ‘None for me’ (said with a grimmace); ‘You’ve got to have sprouts at Christmas’. I don’t think it’s quite as clear cut as saying you either love them or you hate them; how you cook them makes such a difference to their taste and texture. I’m sure many of us have been scarred by soft bordering mushy, greying overcooked sprouts force fed to us at some point in our lives as children. Those poor sprouts have been done such an injustice and are a million miles away from fresh, vivid green al dente orbs lightly seasoned or finished in a pan with pancetta and chestnuts. But the scars run deep and many can never get past the trauma of those sprouts boiling away to within an inch of their existence giving off a smell disturbingly like old socks being boiled in that pan.
Which is a real tragedy.
I’m convinced that cooked in a completely different way either as a star on their own or to mingle with other ingredients in a fine dish those memories can be overcome and sprouts can be seen, and tasted, in a whole new light. And I proved it with one of the biggest sprout-haters I know. My husband.
These days I don’t like to save sprouts just for Christmas day but I don’t buy them as much as I would like as it’s only me here that eats them. When I did buy some the other day I didn’t know what I was going to do with them but then an idea struck me like a bolt from the Sprout Elf King. Hmm, what’s that you say? You’ve never heard of him? I can’t believe it! Well I’ll have to tell you all about him another time. Anyway, as I was saying, here I was standing in the kitchen with divine inspiration: I would make a risotto with leftover roast chicken and use the sprouts in it like cabbage. And with the Sprout Elf King whispering mischief into my ear I decided I would tell Rob cabbage was exactly what it was.
I had to work quickly, shredding those sprouts like lightening until they resembled nothing of their former selves before Rob caught me. Job done I began working the risotto and when Rob came into the kitchen and saw the pile of shredded green veg I smiled serenely and nodded as he asked ‘is that raw cabbage? I love raw cabbage.’ and popped it into his mouth. Seconds passed in silence and I scanned his face for a reaction. None. As he walked out of the kitchen I breathed out. First psychological test passed with flying colours.
20 minutes or so later I watched with a twinkle in my eye as Rob devoured the risotto. ‘Did you like it?’ I asked innocently. ‘Yes it was really good’ he replied as he settled back in his chair. ‘Oh, you liked the Brussels Sprouts in it then? with the same innocent voice…’Brussels Sprouts?’ a flicker of surprise and then realisation that he’d been had ‘OK, you got me. Well I’m surprised, they taste different like that. Really good.’.
Approximately 200g Brussels Sprouts
1.5 litre chicken stock
1 onion, finely diced
300g risotto rice, such as Arborio
100ml dry vermouth
A couple of large handfuls of roasted chicken, cooked through
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese, to serve (optional)
Finely shred the Brussels Sprouts using a food processor or using a sharp knife to thinly slice them.
Heat the stock in a medium pan until it is hot but not simmering, ready to ladle into the risotto.
Next, add a little oil to the pan then the onion and sauté it for a couple of minutes. Add the rice and stir well, coating it in the oil, until it starts to turn translucent then pour in the vermouth and stir the rice for about 30 seconds while the alcohol sizzles and burns off.
Start adding the hot stock, one ladle-full at time, stirring continuously. Allow the rice to absorb each ladle-full before adding the next. About half-way through add the cabbage to the risotto, stirring it in.
Keep adding stock until the rice is al dente, not totally soft all the way through but still with a bite in the middle, and the risotto has a sauce-like consistency. Different varieties of rice absorb differing quantities of liquid so you may not need all of the stock.
Add the chicken and Brussels Sprouts towards the end and ensure the chicken is completely heated through and hot before serving. Season to taste and serve with grated Parmesan cheese, if you like.
I reckon this would be fabulous with leftover turkey. Let me know if you give it a go.