Why hello there, faithful Catastro-nauts! It is I, your fearless leader, Miles Standish. Wait, no, my name Is Jon. Sorry, I’ve been…watching a lot of Thanksgiving cartoons. Making plans for Thursday. Right. Alright. Who are you? What’re we doing? I’M in charge? That sounds frankly unwise. I’m unbelievably unbalanced and liable to snap at any time. Well, if I’m in charge, I guess I’m in charge.
In order to balance the incredible risks you’ve all taken by making me your leader, let’s try and start off with something safe. Last year, right after Thanksgiving, we visited the idea of Holiday Veggie Sides for your Christmas or Thanksgiving dinners. So let’s go back to those simple times with some simple sides that are…unlikely to cause any tragic and enormous explosions.
Pick Something Up While You’re Sprout and About
As I’ve already discussed this year, unlike many Americans I’m actually very Pro-Brussels Sprouts, a trait I’ve always attributed to having my sprouts fried with bacon or roasted in the oven, instead of boiled or steamed. Both of which are less likely to leave the sprouts mushy and sulfurous than the liquid-based methods, though they are, of course, more likely to damage the sprouts in another way: the drier heat and hotter temps means you’re more likely to burn the sprouts. Luckily, today’s recipe embraces that risk, grabbing strong the fire, and jumps, pulling the flame and smoke into the pit, where they fall for days, through fire, and water, until it seizes its foe, and smote its ruin upon the mountain.
What I'm saying is that the recipe today is one of the Istari, servant of Manwë and Varda, and the prospect of burning's one's food is represented here by the Balrog known as Durin's Bane, servant of Morgoth, once called Melkor.
Or, rather, by actually attempting to burn the sprouts, in a controlled way. Now, I’m no food scientist, so I can’t pinpoint the exact reactions involved, but there’s been a growing trend among chefs to char or “pan-blacken” veggies, specifically our old friends the brassica oleaceras. In case you’ve forgotten, that’s the formal name of the species that contains Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Kale, Brussels Sprouts, and Bok Choy, otherwise known as basically every green vegetable that children don’t want to eat. If I had to guess, I’d assume that the high dry heat somehow denatures the sulfurous compounds in the veggies, but, again, not a scientist.
So the following recipe is called “Pot-Stuck Brussels Sprouts” because in essence they’re cooked like you would cook a pot-sticker: shallowly fried on high heat to get a solid crust flavor on the bottom side, and then a liquid is added to the pan, allowing you to briefly steam them.
Like when your skin gets stuck to the wood of the sauna, as the rest of you steams. In the biz, we call that a "butt-sticker".
This is a recipe with only 5 real ingredients (Hell, I’d argue only TWO: Brussels Sprouts and onions) so it’s important that you have all of them. I…wish I didn’t have to state that, but sometimes, you hear some funny feedback. As José Andres says “Look, if you wanna change a recipe, that’s your call. You should feel free in the kitchen to make a recipe your own. You want more onion, add more onion. You want less, take it out. But if it don’t taste good when you’re done, don’t blame ME. “ That’s a pretty vital lesson right there. Hopefully you learned it while buying Brussels sprouts and an onion. And, if you need them: lemon juice, salt, and veggie oil. And I swear to God if one of you brings up that this recipe also requires water, I will SET YOUR HOUSE ON FIRE, AND WE’LL SEE WHO NEEDS SOME GODDAMN WATER.
Uh oh. Ignore that. As your stalwart and fearless leader, I should restrain my anger. I just need to redirect it. Make it useful, J-Man. You can do this. Ooh, we need to cut up the Brussels Sprouts. That’s a good opportunity. Yes. Let’s cut these suckers in half. Quarters if they’re a little big. (TECHNICALLY, that math should have gone the same, but reverse: Default to cutting the sprouts in quarters, halving if they’re a little SMALL.)
*whistles innocently, ignoring his own advice*
This is because the charring of the bottom drives the water out of the part touching the pan, which gets trapped in the leaves of the rest of the sprouts. Essentially, while frying the bottom, you’re also SLIGHTLY steaming the inside of the sprout. Once you’ve got your sprouts dissected and corralled, you’ve got another step that I definitely forgot: you’re supposed to BLANCH the sprouts in boiling water. The quick dip in boiling water (seriously, the recipe I used calls for 30 SECONDS of blanching) You could also just brine them (leave them in salted water) for 10 minutes. Me? I just threw them in a microwave with some water and nuked them for about 90 seconds. Honestly, I had forgotten brining was an option, and just wanted to avoid the time needed to bring water to a boil. I’d say it only slightly weakened the dish, but it’s important to remember: you should probably be boiling water while you cut the sprouts.
My failures out of the way and the sprouts ready, you just heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan over medium high. How much is “about”? Well, take a look at your pan, and at the amount of Brussels sprouts you have. Can you fit them ALL in that pan, in one layer, with at least a little space between them? If no, then you’re going to have to work in batches, so aim for 1-1.5. If yes, then go for 2-3. Me, I couldn’t. Because I had literally twice as much as I should have, so, you know. DUH.
Once your oil is shimmering and hot, drop a sprout in, flat side down. If it sizzles immediately, you’re in business. Dump the rest in trying to ensure that at least MOST of them are cut side down. Then, just…do nothing. This is the critical point: the more you move them, the harder it will be for the bottom crust to form. Just do nothing for at least a minute, before you start checking them. You’re looking for a solid dark brown. Not white. Not light brown. REAL brown.
A real BLURRY brown, more like! Sorry, this was the best shot I got.
Once you get it, toss those suckers to get them on another side, to cook for another minute or two. Hit them with some salt, and toss them a few times. Then, clear a spot in the middle. Too long have these sprouts hogged the spotlight! It’s time for them to step aside for a new contender. Someone bold and fearless, ready to do what needs to be done!
It’s onions, by the way. Like, a quarter cup of onions. You’re basically just tossing them in to slightly deglaze the pan, and have some complimentary textures. They show up, sizzle for a minute, and then they just get intermingled with the sprouts. Like a sad commentary on the fleeting nature of fame, they burst in only to melt away later. Once your onion’s at its career nadir, throw a tablespoon or two of lemon juice into the hot pan, and let it sizzle into lemon-scented steam, tossing the whole pan as it vaporizes.
Another shining new talent cut short by soured relationships and bitterness.
Lemon is another huge player in terms of halting oxidation, which is one of the ways that the sulfurous compounds in brassicas go overboard, so the lemon lightens the earthy charred flavors, and helps prevent any sulfur tastes growing too strong.
Serve at any temp, as, in my humble opinion, these sprouts are great ALL the time. Three days later, my mom spent 10 minutes just swiping the sprouts through balsamic reductions while still cold, and ate basically an entire serving. Hot, warm, cold, they’re killer at any temp.
Squash Your Inhibitions, and Get a Little Spicy.
Sprouts not your thing? I understand. They can be intimidating, those tiny cabbage bastards. For those of you warded off by the bruising little brassica, perhaps you’d be more inclined to grab a snack from a little squash buddy?
Last autumn I spent two whole posts discussing the various strands of squash that are regularly consumed in the American kitchen, and how the majority of them come from two main species, mixing across like, 30 different shapes and sizes you would buy. As my discussions of brassicas and hot peppers have hopefully made clear, this is an issue that essentially permeates vegetable production: mankind would find a species it liked, and breed it into six, seven different shapes and sizes to emphasize different things different regions liked.
The species for butternut squash, moschata, has two primary reasons it’s eaten. The first is, of course, the butternut itself. The second is less obvious, but potentially more widely consumed. The “Dickenson pumpkin” is a moschata cultivar. And if you’ve had a Thanksgiving in the United States, you’ve probably eaten it. Because the vast majority of Dickenson pumpkin is grown by one company, for one purpose.
Dun Dun DUNNNNNNNN!
Yep, that’s right! That aunt you have, who’s always complained that Canned Pumpkin isn’t the same as fresh? She’s right! It’s a different plant! It’s a dumb victory, because there’s 6 types of pumpkin over 3 species so fresh pumpkin isn’t even the same as fresh pumpkin, depending on where you bought them. Also, the majority of taste tests end up with shrugs: some groups prefer one, some the other, it’s just a toss-up.
So I had the brother to the nation’s preferred pumpkin potable, ready for some culinary creation. And luckily, I had a simple recipe using an old friend.
Speak now, my friend
whisper, I'll listen
Gochujang, the fermented bean paste of Korean fame is back, bringing with it some sweetness, some spice, and a little earthiness to complement our creamy sweet squash. And, just like the sprouts, this recipe is pretty simple. And isn’t that exactly what we’d hope for? Too often our holiday staple recipes are multi-step productions fighting for limited cooking space in order to get everything together. Both of these recipes are simple fixes servable at multiple temps. Making life easy is my middle name. (I tend to just write it as initials. Jon M.L.E. O’Guin.)
Further, this lets us use the gochujang we last used in…May, I think? Maybe April. That’s another perk of the condiment: it’ll keep in the fridge for like, a year. I think my container doesn’t go ‘bad’ until February. So stir that special sauce with some soy, some sesame seed, and a little veggie oil. That out of the way, you can focus on slicing the squash.
Or maybe this is play-doh. I get confused.
You want the squash in half-moon slices about a quarter inch thick, a process that only endangered my fingers about three times over the course of the whole squash. Hey, maybe I’m getting the hang of this ‘responsible leader’ business! Just toss the slices in the sauce, toss them on a sheet, and roast for 30 minutes.
Now, we actually made two ‘recipes’ of squash, because my father still hasn’t fully recovered from his illnesses, and we feared the spice of the gochujang would be too much for him. Unfortunately, the second batch wasn’t REALLY a recipe, instead being just slices of squash, dotted with butter, dusted with cumin and…something else. We don’t remember.
Seen on the bottom here. I think the spice may have been cinnamon?
But, even uninformed as we were, we still succeeded! The gochujang squash was good, the cumin-butter squash was good. Everything was coming up Milhouse! Yeah! If you need simple, successful sides for your holidays, I’d be willing to bet that any of these could serve suitably.
Remember that for as little as $1 a month, you can support the site through Patreon, helping Jon devise even more complex culinary creations, and keeping the site going. Of course, simply sharing our posts on Social Media also supports the site, and any thoughts or ideas you have can be sent to us either over Facebook or through email. I assure you, Jon reads every message we get, and responds to them.
THURSDAY: IT’S THANKSGIVING! JON REVIEWS AN ANIMATED SPECIAL, AS CHOSEN BY HIS PATREON SUPPORTERS, SINCE HE’LL BE SPENDING THE NEXT COUPLE DAYS COOKING AND PREPPING FOR THE HOLIDAY.
MONDAY: JON USES LEFT-OVER MEATS TO MAKE A TASTY TREAT. SOUR CREAM AND POT ROAST JOIN FORCES WITH WAY TOO MANY MUSHROOMS IN BEEF STROGANOFF.
Pot-Stuck Brussels Sprouts
½ lb Brussels sprouts, quartered
2 tbsps vegetable oil
¼ c diced onion
2 tbsps lemon juice (or, the juice of ½ lemon.)
Salt to taste
1. Heat the oil over medium high heat until shimmering. Blanch the sprouts for 30 seconds in boiling water, or soak them in a brine for 10 minutes.
2. Shake the sprouts dry, and add to the pan, cut side down (at least most of them). Cook undisturbed for 1-2 minutes, then begin checking sprouts: just lift them up and check the bottom. If they’re dark brown, you’re ready for the next step: toss the sprouts so the majority have flipped, and cook another minute or two on this side, salting lightly.
3. Clear a space in the center of the pan, and toss in the onion. If pan is too dry, splash a little more oil. Fry for 1 minutes, just till starting to soften, then toss the entire dish, sprinkling with salt.
4. Fry another minute, then add the lemon juice. Toss to combine, and cook for one last minute, before pouring into a serving dish.
Gochujang Butternut Squash
1 medium squash (roughly 2 lbs), cut in half, seeded, peeled, and cut into ¼” slices.
2 tbsps sesame seeds
1 tbsp gochujang paste
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Scallions cut into 1” segments for serving (optional)
1. Mix all ingredients except squash and scallions together. Preheat oven to 425.
2. Toss squash in spice mixture, and place in single layer on rimmed baking sheet(s). Roast for 25-30 minutes.
3. Transfer to a serving bowl, top with salt and scallions, and serve warm.