Barbeque season is upon us, but who amongst our number dare lay claim to the title of "Sprout Master"?
Although my father had many good points, it has to be admitted that he reserved the truth for certain occasions. From when I was a very young age, for example, every time my mother served Brussels sprouts, my father would make a variety of "yum-yum" and "mmm-mmm" sounds and give every impression that sprouts were a high treat; indeed, that they were his favorite fare -- verily, the foodstuff of the gods.
You have to give the man credit. He maintained this facade for year after year, even though I remained unconvinced and shared my opinion forcibly with anyone in hearing distance, including my confidant, Big Ted. It was only after I had grown to manhood and my father had passed that mom shared with me the fact that my dad loathed sprouts with a vengeance. It was all an act. Now I'm left wondering as to what other despicable tales he told me. Did he really enjoy brushing his teeth as much as he once claimed?
The ironic thing is that I have actually grown to love sprouts to the extent that they have become one of my favorite vegetables. Just today I had "sprout surprise"* for lunch (*I wasn't expecting it). Over time, I have developed a number of ways to present these little beauties so as to entice others to accept their cruciferous charms.
The first technique is the simplest. The sprouts are prepared by cutting their ends off, removing the outer leaves, and then making two cuts in the chopped-off ends. These cuts, which are at 90 degrees to each other, should go about a third of the way through the sprout. Simply add a few teaspoons of malt vinegar or apple cider vinegar along with a pinch of salt into the pot in which you are cooking your sprouts, and then boil the little scamps until your preferred level of tenderness is reached (say about 15 minutes). The resulting hint of a sniff of vinegar really does enhance the flavor.
My second approach is only a tad more complex. First you prepare your sprouts by cutting their tops off, removing the outer leaves, and chopping them in half. At this time I also dice up a little onion and garlic. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a skillet, bring to a medium-high heat, and add the sprouts and onion. After a minute or so, I also add a pinch of crushed red pepper and a healthy sprinkle of ground black pepper. Keep on turning the sprouts and onions until they start to go a little brown (three to five minutes), then throw in the garlic for 30 seconds, slosh in some chicken stock, add a pinch of salt, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer (stirring occasionally) until the sprouts reach the desired level of tenderness (say about 10 minutes).
The third procedure takes the most work but reaps the greatest reward. We prepare our sprouts in the same way as for the skillet-based approach. We also dice a little onion and garlic. We then take some little red potatoes and cut them into chunks that are about the same size as our half-sprouts. I personally prefer to parboil the potatoes for say two or three minutes, after which I immediately drain them to prevent them from keeping on cooking. Now take some fatty bacon, dice it into really small bits, and brown it in a skillet. Once the bacon is really crispy, use a slotted spoon to move it out of the skillet to a small bowl, and then add the sprouts, onions, garlic, and potatoes into the skillet.
Stir everything up so that all of the vegetables are embraced by a thin sheen of bacon grease (add a little olive oil if required). Spread the mix one-layer thick on a baking sheet, lightly drizzle everything with chicken stock, gently dust with salt and ground black pepper, and bake at 400°F (205°C) for 30 minutes, turning everything over half way through. When you remove your culinary masterpiece from the oven, mix in the crispy bacon along with a handful of freshly-chopped parsley or cilantro.
Ah, the mighty sprout truly is the king of vegetables. Why else would we have masterpieces like The Sprouts of Wrath? What are you muttering about? What's a grape got to do with anything. How could a weedy grape hope to compete against the mighty sprout? I'm not talking about the rambling driveling of an American hack -- I'm talking about a modern masterpiece, namely the fourth volume in the nine-book series forming The Brentford Trilogy (it's best not to try to do the math, otherwise you will run into conundrums such as the fact that Knees Up Mother Earth is both the seventh volume in The Brentford Trilogy and the second book in The Witches of Chiswick Trilogy).
The summer solstice occurred this weekend past and cosmic energies are in flux. My current ambition is to boldly go behind the beyond, behind which no man has boldly gone behind, beyond, before. Yes! I wish to learn the secrets of the mystic arts, to discover how to barbeque the king of vegetables, to be dubbed a Sprout Master, and -- ultimately -- to gain membership in the Ancient Order of the Golden Sprout, at which time I shall appear resplendent in my sprout-print Hawaiian shirt.
Until this glorious day comes to pass, while I return to poring over the ancient texts of sprout lore, pondering mysteries that would drive a lesser man insane, perhaps you would care to share your own experiences with the uncontested ruler of the vegetable kingdom. I'd also be interested to hear if your parents pretended to enjoy certain foodstuffs in order to persuade you to eat them against your better judgment, and whether or not you continue this tradition of deception and deceit with your own innocent offspring.
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting