The key to excellent roasted Brussels sprouts is heat and lots of it. Not the spicy kind, but the oven kind. This is easy in a restaurant where they can crank up those industrial ovens as high as they'll go, but more difficult at home. I think I've finally figured how to make it happen.
Heat is crucial for two reasons. First, it chars the outsides of the sprouts, crisping the outer leaves and caramelizing the cut surfaces. Second, it cooks the Brussels sprouts quickly.
And Brussels sprouts are essentially a quick cooking vegetable. You can even eat them raw if you so desire. Cooked Brussels sprouts should be soft, but still have a little resistance in the middles.
A problem that I've had with other roasted Brussels sprouts recipes I've tried is that they simply bake the sprouts. By the time the outer leaves are roasted, the interiors have gone mushy and soft.
I've started to char the sliced Brussels sprouts, cut-side-down, in a screaming-hot cast iron skillet. Then I throw them under the broiler to roast the tops. You don't want to crowd the pan too much or the sprouts steam instead of crisp. You also don't need to stir; just let those sprouts have as much contact with the hot pan as possible. From throwing them in the pan to pulling them from the oven, it takes about five minutes.
A warning: this method does tend to make the kitchen smoky! It's hard to resist yanking the smoking sprouts out of the oven, but try to set aside your instincts. Only the outer layers are smoking, and like searing a steak on the grill, this will caramelize the outsides while the insides are still tender and delicious. You'll probably want to turn on an exhaust fan or open a window, though!
I love these sprouts seasoned with just salt and pepper. A half lemon squeezed over the sprouts just before serving would be a nice touch, as would a handful of grated parmesan cheese. I've also tried tossing the sprouts with a little soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce for an even deeper flavor. All are delicious.
Serves 4 as a side dish, see notes at the end of the recipe on doubling
1 1/2 pounds brussels sprouts
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
a few grinds of black pepper
Trim the bottoms from the sprouts if they appear dry or yellowed, and peel away the loose outer leaves. Slice the sprouts in half through the stem.
Turn on your kitchen exhaust fan or open a window to disperse the cooking smoke. Place an oven rack a few inches below your broiler and turn on the broiler. Set a cast-iron skillet over high heat. When drops of water evaporate on contact, the skillet is ready for roasting.
Toss the sprouts with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Pour them into the pan and quickly flip them cut-side down. If they don't all fit cut-side down, that's ok; just flip as many as you can. Do not stir the sprouts.
Put the pan under the broiler. Roast for 3 minutes, then begin checking for charring. Don't be alarmed if you see some smoke coming out of your oven (make sure your kitchen fan is on!). Remove the pan when the tops of the sprouts are evenly charred, about 5-7 minutes total.
Serve immediately for maximum crispiness. After cooling, the sprouts are still tasty but lose their crisp texture.
• To Make a Double Batch: Place a baking sheet in the oven while the broiler is heating. Remove the baking sheet and arrange all the sprouts cut-sides-down. Place the pan back under the broiler to finish cooking.
(Images: Emma Christensen)