Why are brussel sprouts such a traditional part of our Christmas meal?
Of course, we couldn’t be without the good old brussel sprout at Christmas time! Love them or hate them, they have become a British tradition and are there, on your dinner plate every year, accompanying your Christmas meal. Having searched Google to look for the reason behind this tradition, it does appear to be, very simply down to the fact that they are a winter stock vegetable, are readily available and relatively inexpensive.
The brussel sprout is a member of the cabbage family, grown for its edible buds that look like miniature cabbages. It is a slow-growing, long-bearing crop that are planted, as seeds, in mid to late summer for a crop that is ready to be harvested in the late Autumn. The ‘sprout heads’ mature best in cool and even in light frosty weather – hence it being such a great winter vegetable. The sprout industry today in the UK is worth around £650 million! The area covered by brussel sprout fields in the UK is the equivalent of 3,240 football pitches! Wow, that’s a lot of sprouts!
It is thought that Brussels sprouts were grown as early as the 13th century near Brussels, Belgium, which is where their name derived. The first written reference to the brussel sprout dates back to 1587!
And yes, they are incredibly good for you and are full of nutrients!
These little green beauties contain very high levels of vitamin C and vitamin K and also contain moderate levels of B vitamins, essential minerals and dietary fibre.
Cooking the perfect sprout!
Overcooking causes brussel sprouts to become grey and soft, developing a strong flavour and smell. The odour is associated with the glucosinolate sinigrin, an organic compound that contains sulfur, hence the strong smell – a bit like bad eggs! However, cooked to perfection, they are sweet, slightly crunchy and quite delicious. Other than steaming and boiling, you can roast sprouts which help to bring out their flavour.
There are many recipes which bring out the best flavour in the brussel sprout, we’ve chosen our favourite recipe below but click here for many more recipe ideas! It’s good to try and choose sprouts that are roughly the same size, for even cooking.
800g brussel sprouts
1tbs sunflower oil
85g bacon lardons
85g fresh breadcrumbs
50g plain flower
2tsp English mustard powder
100g gruyere cheese, grates
25g parmesan cheese, grated
- Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Halve any large sprouts and toss them with the oil and some seasoning in a roasting tin or ovenproof dish. Roast for 20 mins until the sprouts are tender and turning golden.
- Meanwhile, put the bacon lardons in a cold frying pan and place over a medium-low heat. Gently fry the lardons so the fat melts out into the pan as they crisp. When golden brown and crisp, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. Add the breadcrumbs and crisp up in the bacon fat until golden and crunchy. Remove from the pan to cool, then clean the pan.
- Melt the butter in the pan with 2 tbsp of the milk, then stir in the flour and mustard powder for 2 mins to make a paste. Gradually whisk in remaining milk, until you have a smooth sauce. Use a spoon again to stir and cook until the sauce comes to the boil and thickens. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese until melted. Taste and season.
- Tip the sprouts into a baking dish, scatter with the crisp bacon lardons, then spoon over the sauce and scatter with the crispy crumbs. Can be cooled, covered and chilled for up to 48 hrs before baking. Bake gratin for 10 mins (or 20 mins from chilled) at 200C/180C fan/gas 6 until piping hot and bubbling.