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Knife Skills: Brussels Sprouts

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[Video: Jessica Leibowitz of my camera eats food]

I flat out love brussels sprouts. They are easily the most favorite of my favorite vegetables. When properly seared and caramelized they turn sweet and nutty like nothing else. Of course, if you overcook them or allow them to steam in their own liquid, they turn funky and unpleasant like nothing else, or at least like nothing fit to be eaten.

Properly cooking them requires two things: high heat, and proper preparation. Today we're gonna focus on the latter (don't worry, we'll come to the actual cooking soon enough).

The key to getting your sprouts to taste great is to maximize their surface area in contact with the pan. There are two ways to do this. First, you can simply trim them down and split them in half. Cook them cut side down in plenty of fat (olive oil is good, bacon fat is better, duck fat is the best) until the entire cut face has turned crisp and nearly blackened. Delicious.

Want to further increase surface area? It's a little more work, but you can also cut each head into fine shreds (call them chiffonade if you want to sound fancy). You can't cook quite as many in the same pan this way (lest they start the dreaded steam cycle), but you'll end up with extraordinarily whispy, crisp, tender shreds that are so good you'll wonder why you ever hated brussels sprouts. Watch the full video above for a demo.

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Shopping and Storage

My favorite way to get brussels sprouts is from the farmer's market, still attached to their stalk. They just look phenomenally cool, like a little Christmas trees with edible balls. The sprouts also tend to last a bit longer on the stalk than when bought loose.

Whether loose or on the stalk, look for small, tight heads with minimal discoloration. The outer leaves of brussels sprouts, like many cabbages, will start to develop black or dark brown spots before the rest of it starts to go bad. The exterior leaves should be bright green while the inner leaves should go from pale yellow to white.

Once you get them home, store brussels sprouts loosely wrapped in plastic (a plastic baggie with the top left open is ideal) in the vegetable crisper drawer, where they should remain good for at least two weeks. If they begin to discolor, simply peel off the exterior leaves until you get to the first clean layer.

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