You think of Brussels sprouts and you think of misery. When you were a kid, some damn do-gooder grownup nuked a frozen bag of them in the microwave , and scooped a bunch of them onto your plate next to your delicious SpaghettiOs, and laid some bullshit on you about how eating them would make you grow up big and strong like Batman, and "Don't you want to be like Batman?" and "Batman always eats his Brussels sprouts!" and "But they're so good for you!" and "They only get grosser the longer you stare at them" and "I guess you can just sit here until you're ready to eat your Brussels sprouts" and "Jesus, I told myself I would never be this kind of parent, this is the same shit they used to pull on me" and "[sobbing]" and "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, you don't have to eat them, please don't grow up to be like me, just be happy instead."
After all that, you could hardly be blamed for never really liking Brussels sprouts. This is a tragic situation, both for you and for Brussels sprouts. For you, because holy cow, you could have bought two houses by now with the money you've spent on therapy, and for Brussels sprouts, because, when treated (i.e. prepared and presented) like things that are good and not just good-for-you, they're lovely.
The trouble is in how they're prepared. Because our American culture comes to us from the Puritans, who feared pleasure and distrusted joy, it divides all foodstuffs into two groups: Evil Sinful Indulgences on the one hand, and Virtuous Healthful Chores on the other. Accordingly, we prepare most of our edible vegetation—the healthful stuff—by cooking it with water vapor—the tablespoon of tap-water your sad grownup added to the frozen shit before microwaving it back in the day—which accomplishes virtually nothing except rendering the fibrous matter marginally chewable. Look at me all disciplined and upstanding!, we think to ourselves, gnawing away at some bland green horror. I care more about friggin' manganese or whatever than I do about enjoying my brief time in this beautiful world! This attitude exemplifies health and is not sad at all.
This is a bullshit way to do things. Vegetation—Brussels sprouts, even!—can be delicious, satisfying, exciting food. Want proof? Fry them. No, really: Fry some Brussels sprouts! Now! Let's fry some Brussels sprouts.
The first step is to heat up a bunch of oil in a pot on your stove. This must be a sturdy oil that will not burst into flames as soon as sunlight hits it (peanut and corn oil are splendid for this), and you'll need quite a lot of it. However big your pot is, you'll want the oil to be a good four or five or six inches deep, in there. And now, for a moment of large-pot advocacy.
Here's the thing: Your oil will need to be extremely hot for this procedure; significantly hotter, even, than if you were deep-frying, say, a soft-shell crab or a fish fillet. Anything less than scary fires-of-hell heat, and your Brussels sprouts will return from their bath mushy, sodden with oil, and thoroughly gross. Now, that scary heat is fairly easy to accomplish: You just kinda put the pot of oil over a burner and turn it on and wait a while, and then it's the correct temperature, and then it bursts into flames and incinerates your neighborhood. In fact, that heat is easier to accomplish in a smaller pot than in a larger one, since a smaller pot will contain less oil and therefore take less time to heat up.
The trick, though, is maintaining that heat. When you drop some number of quartered Brussels sprouts (we'll get to the quartering part in a second) (no, there will not be 500 words' worth of advocacy appended to that section, jeez) into the pot of extremely hot oil, the temperature of that oil plummets because—unless you were going at them with a blowtorch prior to their submersion, which, I mean, why are you doing that, you psycho—the Brussels sprouts are a great deal cooler than the oil, which after all is very nearly hot enough to sunder nuclei. If the temperature plummets too far, then it will be as though you never raised it so high in the first place, and your Brussels sprouts will turn out soggy and sad, and so will you, and you will put on a thick wool turtleneck and sobbingly read aloud from the works of Emily Dickinson by a rain-streaked window, and Christ, nobody wants that.
This is the risk of using a small pot: Its smaller quantity of oil gets hot easier, but it also gets cool easier, too. You dump a hearty batch of Brussels sprouts in there, and by the time it recovers from the shock, they might already be ruined.
"Ah-HA!" you are thinking, and also screaming, to the terror of your fellow bus passengers—"but what if I work in smaller batches, you sonofabitch!" Sure. Go for it. Pop your popcorn one kernel at a time, too, the next time you make some of that. Print out business cards that read I Do Things The Stupid Way, and make cute little paper airplanes out of them, and throw the paper airplanes, one by one, into the garbage. Embrace the absurd! Talk to birds! Spend $1,500 on a tiny useless computer that you wear on your face! Go all the way with it. There's no turning back.
Or, be smart, and don't use a small pot. Use a big one instead. This has been your moment of large-pot advocacy.
While the oil heats up in your very large pot full of the lots and lots of oil you had to use because of how large your pot is [stares daggers], trim and quarter some Brussels sprouts. Two pounds' worth? That seems like it'll be all the Brussels sprouts in the world, but A) Brussels sprouts are kinda heavy, and B) they'll shrink a bit during cooking. A two-pound bag of Brussels sprouts will yield more than enough fried Brussels sprouts for two adults, but probably not enough for four. More crucially, it will give you some slack in case you fuck some of them up.
These must be fresh—not frozen—Brussels sprouts; most decent supermarkets and green grocers have these hanging around somewhere. Trimming them entails hacking off the brown, woody part down where the bulb of the sprout was once connected to a thick wooden stem (assuming this brown, woody part hasn't been hacked off already); quartering them involves, well, cutting them into quarters. Stand each sprout on its flat base and cut it in half down through the top; cut each half in half the same way, so that each sprout yields four little sprout-wedges. There.
(Now, depending on how you intend to serve your Brussels sprouts—we'll get to that—this could be where you set them aside and throw together some kind of dressing for them. This, essentially, is just like making dressing for a salad, except with less oil: You want some sweet, some tart, some salt, some oil, and maybe some sharpness or piquancy, or maybe not. Your favorite vinegar, a glug of olive oil, and some honey will go together nicely; freshly-squeezed lemon juice is swell in place of the vinegar; decide for yourself whether the vivid coloration of crushed berries will look too weird on deeply browned Brussels sprouts. Maybe sneak a squeeze of anchovy paste in there to coax the other flavors to fullest sail. In any case, if you're intending to dress your Brussels sprouts up like a salad, prepare the dressing now, tasting as you go, and set it aside, because you won't have time to do it once you're frying Brussels sprouts.)
So your Brussels sprouts are trimmed and quartered (and your dressing, if you're using one, is prepared and waiting). Check the oil for readiness. You remember the wooden-spoon trick. Dip the tip of a wooden spoon into the oil and watch it—if nothing happens, the oil's not hot enough; if bubbles form on the spoon as though it's cooking, the oil's ready or close to it; if the spoon shrieks and claws at your arms, oh god what have you done that is the fucking cat I am so sorry Mister Foofles.
You'll want a definitive bubbling reaction, here; remember that the oil must be hotter than it was when you made fish sandwiches. If you're looking for a more reliable indicator than the behavior of bubbles on a friggin' wooden spoon, but would prefer not to purchase an instant digital thermometer because it's all you can do to keep the lights on, Christ, what am I, made of money?, go ahead and drop one of your Brussels-sprout quarters into the oil: It should begin to cook, and furiously, right away, and be deeply browned (but not blackened or on fire or oh no that was the cat again) within two minutes. Yes? Good. Your oil is ready.
And now... fry your Brussels sprouts in it! Work in batches; don't dump more than, say, two cups' worth of sprout-quarters into the oil at a time—both to preserve the heat of the oil and because, these being vegetables after all, they contain water, which will cause a little bit of spattering at first, unless you dump a huge quantity of sprout-quarters into the oil all at once, in which case the water will case a fucking lot of spattering, and also possibly a very large inferno, like it does when idiots deep-fry frozen turkeys.
As with the sole brave sprout-wedge with which you tested the oil earlier, and assuming you keep them small, each batch should be deeply browned but not burned within two minutes of entering the pot. Remove them from the oil with that slotted spoon or a wire basket or one of those neat-o long-handled stainless-steel colanders you can "borrow" from your well-adjusted neighbor the next time his admirable but foolhardy faith in human beings causes him to leave his patio door unlocked while he's off reading to blind orphans. Dump them onto a bed of paper towels to drain and cool while you cook the remaining batches, one by one.
There. Browned and crispy, good-smelling and lovely. Your heap of fried Brussels sprouts. What will you do with them?
If you made a dressing for your fried Brussels sprouts, go ahead and toss them with it in a big salad bowl or deep-sided platter now—along with, oh, some crushed nuts, maybe some currants or capers or halved cherry tomatoes, and a bunch of salt and freshly cracked black pepper. This configuration will do quite nicely as a side for a brined and grilled chicken breast, or meatloaf, or a roasted chicken, or whatever; it's nutty and sweet and salty and tart and faintly bitter, and crispy and crunchy, and it gets along with most things.
Or! If you held off on the dressing part because you sensed that you might receive a better offer if you did, you are wise beyond measure, but also: Sprinkle your fried Brussels sprouts with a modest pinch of sea salt, and then drop a handful of them over a plate of pappardelle pasta that has been tossed with the richest, meatiest, most obscene ragù ever to infarct an artery. Yes, yes, by God yes. The salty, crispy nuttiness and slight caramelized sweetness of these, against the rich, deep, winey intensity of the ragù, oh man, this is so much better than SpaghettiOs, stupid SpaghettiOs, dammit Mom and Dad, why didn't you just fry them, how different we could be, how happy, eating fried Brussels sprouts and being happy, being Batman, or like Batman, you fools, you damn fools.
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Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. Peevishly correct his foolishness on Twitter @albertburneko, or send him your creepy longform hate-missives at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find lots more Foodspin at foodspin.deadspin.com.
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