Our resident chef Mark Hix on the hidden potential of the humble sprout

 
Mark Hix

Sprouts have something of a bad reputation. They’re a huge part of the Christmas roast, yet all too often they’re inadequately prepared and cooked with no love. But the humble brussels sprout has got untold potential in the right hands.

For a start, don’t fall for the Christmas marketing scam of buying them on the inedible stem. You don't buy your clementines and satsumas on a branch, so why buy sprouts on the stem? Instead, rather like the kale hearts I wrote about last week, you should look for sprout hearts.

In the restaurants we rarely serve sprouts just boiled with butter but incorporate them into simple starter dishes either lightly cooked or raw.

Yes, raw, a finely shredded sprout tossed in a good dressing is delicious, especially when you incorporate a few nuggets of blue cheese and toasted or pickled walnuts.

I've converted a few anti brussels sprout activists over the years by serving them raw, or as the recipe below, but one of the best sprout dishes that has passed my lips was deep fried in Momofuko in New York.

They were criss-crossed with a knife quite deep, and then kept in cold water so they open up like a flower. They were then deep fried and doused with a Thai fish sauce and chilli dressing. It was delicious and an inspiration.

Flowering sprout hearts with duck hearts recipe

Serves 4

These tiny flowering sprout hearts are top of my list in the winter greens league for both taste and looks and also for the minimum preparation they require.

Ingredients

  • 35-40 flowering sprout hearts, trimmed and washed
  • A couple knobs of butter
  • 24 or so duck hearts (or livers if you like)
  • 2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped

For the dressing

  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 4 tbsp walnut or hazelnut oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the sprout hearts for about 30 seconds, then drain well. Whisk the ingredients together for the dressing and season to taste.

Heat the butter in a frying pan, season the hearts and fry them on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes, rolling them around in the pan and adding the shallots after a minute, until nicely coloured outside but keeping them pink inside.

To serve, toss the sprout hearts in half of the dressing, season, then arrange on serving plates with the duck hearts and spoon over the rest of the dressing.

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