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Kitchn Love Letters

Meet the Ugliest, Most Delicious Brussels Sprout Recipe of All Time

published Dec 11, 2020
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There’s nothing so good as an ugly recipe. The slumpy cake, the dumpy biscuits, the pot full of indistinguishable bits that just happen to be melting into the sauce — when it comes to much of the food we eat, if it’s ugly, you know it’s good. But a few recipes really stand out for making an effort. Think about the classic no-bake chocolate peanut butter oat cookies, which look like cow patties but which I will fervently defend as one of the top five most transcendent sweets of all time.

And then there’s these Brussels sprouts. Meet Two-Molly Brussels, otherwise known as Molly Stevens’ Cream-Braised Brussels Sprouts. They try extra, extra hard to win the Italian brutti ma buoni double-take — so ugly you recoil, and then so good you can’t stop eating. That’s how you know they are just one of those recipes that you taste once, then never stop making.

Read Molly Stevens’ guide to braising vegetables: The Transformative Power of Braising Vegetables

I call them “Two-Molly” because I discovered this recipe via that great early internet curator of recipes, Molly Wizenberg of Orangette. All the way back in 2006 she burbled enchantingly about this recipe: “My stomach literally coos like a baby at the thought of it. I could lap up a plate of this stuff like a cat with a bowl of milk.”

All right. You have my attention, I said. The first time I tried a bite of this recipe, my head almost fell into the still-hot sauté pan. See, these Brussels sprouts are like the ur-text of braising. They’re so simple and show how a good well-executed braise yields far more than the sum of its parts.

You start by cutting up Brussels sprouts like the little heads of cabbage they are: sliced into quarters or, as I usually do, just halves. Then you toss a few pieces of butter into a deep sauté pan and crank your stove up.

As in any good braise, this is where the flavor happens. You have to sear these little green heads well and good. I like to place them cut face-down in the pan, to maximize the browning. Only after one side is so toasted it looks grilled, do I flip and stir. I really take my time. Think “blackened” not “browned.” Like most braises, these Brussels sprouts demonstrate that until you worry whether you’ve burned it, you haven’t gone far enough.

And then comes the shocking moment: Over these nearly burnt little cabbages, you pour … an entire cup of heavy whipping cream. Bam! The steam comes up and you turn the heat real low and cover the pan to let those babies simmer along. Now they’re going to cook in all that fat, bringing along the flavor they earned in that hard, hot sear.

Here’s where I depart from Molly’s recipe a tad: She recommends cooking for 30 minutes, but I like Brussels sprouts that aren’t quite so cooked — tender and al dente, instead of melt-in-your-mouth — so I usually cook 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove the lid and make the final masterstroke: Squeeze in at least a tablespoon of lemon juice (I usually go for an entire lemon’s worth). The sauce, which is unattractively middling beige at this point, will break and curdle, steaming down into a slick gloss over the sprouts.

It’s fantastically ugly.

But then you take a bite and, well: all the cabbagey funk of the Brussels sprouts have developed a deeply nutty flavor, mellowed by the cream, and punctuated by the lemon and a sprinkle of salt. I’m just not a good enough writer to give you that taste; all I can say is, sometimes a five-ingredient recipe comes along and blows the top of your head off. This is one of them, and I’ve been making it for 14 years and have no intention of stopping.

I could eat a batch all by myself, but my husband would be highly aggrieved. I save it for holidays and the longest nights of the winter, when a steamy braise and a whole cup of cream sound like a wise choice.

I think we have a few nights like that coming up, when you’ll be stuck inside with nowhere to go and no reason to dress up. An ugly recipe is exactly what you’ll need, and this is it.

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.