An individual Brussels sprout is not much to look at. It’s green, round, and cabbage-like. It looks like a vegetable, and that’s fine. But a whole stalk of sprouts is visually arresting, almost otherworldly. And, when roasted whole and served as the centrepiece for a vegetarian Thanksgiving (or a stunning side at an omnivore Thanksgiving), the humble cruciferous vegetable becomes the star of the show.
A stalk of Brussels sprouts is best prepared like any Brussels sprout: You should roast it. Trader Joe’s recommends microwaving it first, but I have never met a microwave that was big enough to accommodate an entire stalk. Don’t worry. Your oven will work just fine.
It’s not a complicated dish. In its simplest form, all you have to do is brush the sprouts with olive oil, salt them generously, and pop the whole stalk in the oven until the sprouts are tender and as browned as you like them. If you want to get fancy with it, Thanksgiving is a good day to do it, especially if you do not eat turkey, but still want an edible centrepiece with which to wow your guests. (I think this is prettier than any dead bird.)
Do a little knife work
Leaving the sprouts whole works fine, but Thanksgiving is not the time for “fine.” Making a cross section in each sprout exposes the inside and increases the amount of surface area you can season, while decreasing the amount of time it take to get the sprouts tender.
You’ll want to make two perpendicular, intersecting cuts into the sprout. You want to go as deep as you can while still keeping it one piece — about a quarter inch from the little stem that attaches to the stalk is good. Making the cross sections is a little tedious, but kind of fun, and won’t take you more than 10 minutes. Once your knife work is finished, it’s time to flavour.
Brush on the flavour
As I mentioned earlier, you could totally get away with olive oil and salt, but I like to brush my stalk with a sweet and tangy, vinaigrette-esque sauce, then finish with fresh lemon juice, and a final sprinkling of salt. (That’s right, we’re getting two acids involved.) You could also finish your stalk with citrus zest, herbs of any kind, or even a cloud of freshly grated parm, but I would not skip the lemon juice (especially on Thanksgiving, a day with a rich, fatty menu that needs all the acid you can throw at it). I enjoy placing a single pomegranate seed in each cross section, because it’s pretty, but you can scatter them around the stalk if that’s a little too twee for your tastes.
You’ll need to brush the sauce on a few times, to build a few layers of flavour, the first of which will caramelize in spots. Make sure you get the sauce down into those cross sections; increasing surface area for flavour to cling is the entire reason for making them in the first place.
Maple Roasted Stalk of Sprouts
- 1 stalk of Brussels sprouts
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 package pomegranate seeds
- 1 lemon wedge (about a quarter of a large lemon)
- More salt for finishing
Wash the stalk, pat dry with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel, and trim off any rough looking leaves or whole sprouts, as well as any stems that might get in your way while making cross sections.
Using a sharp paring knife, make two perpendicular, intersecting cuts into the sprout. Go as deep as you can while still keeping it one piece — about a quarter inch from the little stem. Place on a baking sheet and heat your oven to 180ºC.
While the oven is heating, make the sauce by combining all ingredients except the pomegranate seeds, lemon, and finishing salt. I like to add everything to a jar and shake it up. Brush the mixture all over the sprouts with a pastry brush, making sure to get a good bit of the sauce inside the cross sections.
Roast the stalk for 1o minutes, then brush with more sauce and rotate the pan. Repeat until the sprouts are tender and browned on the tips and edges, 30-45 minutes total, depending on your oven, and make sure you apply the sauce at least three times. (My oven has a convection setting that gets it done in 30, but a traditional oven will probably clock in at 45.)
Remove from the oven, squeeze a wedge of lemon over the entire stalk, and season with more salt to taste. Place a pomegranate seed in each sprout if you are in a twee-arse kind of mood. Serve in the centre of the table. (Nudge the dead bird out of the way if needed.)