Unloved and overcooked, sprouts become overpoweringly pungent and spongy, chosen merely as the token green veg on Christmas day. This is a real shame as, cooked with care, they are sweet and nutty with a lovely firm texture.
Perfectly cooked sprouts need little more than four minutes in boiling salted water. If, however, you are looking for something a little more imaginative, refresh them in iced cold water then sauté in duck fat with chestnuts or almonds. As they fry the rich fat caramelises the sprouts’ natural sugars, enhancing their sweetness, while the toasted nuts emphasise their nutty flavour.
It’s not just the sprout itself that is undervalued; their leafy tops, despite their excellent flavour, are pretty much ignored. Sprout tops have a robust mineral quality which makes them a great accompaniment to gamey meat.
In my recipe I’ve paired sautéed sprouts and sprout tops with duck, almonds, carrot purée and a red wine jus. To make the jus, boil a cup of red wine in a saucepan over a high heat until it has reduced by three quarters. Add a sprig of thyme, a bay leaf, a piece of orange peel, a quarter of a star anise and three cups of duck (or chicken) stock. Boil until it reduces to a nice sauce consistency, take off the heat, remove the anise and herbs and whisk in a knob of cold butter to give a rich and glossy finish.
DUCK WITH SPROUTS, ALMONDS, CARROT PUREE, ANISE JUS
- Prep Time 30
- Cook Time 30
- Serves 2
Ingredients2 duck breasts
5 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
Aromatics: 1 star anise, 1 bay leaf and 5 cardamom pods
12 Brussels sprouts, boiled until cooked al dente, then refreshed in iced water
Handful of sprout tops, roughly cut and steamed
10 blanched almonds
Anise jus (see above)
Place the carrots in a pot with the aromatics and a cup of water. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer until tender. Remove the spices and process with a knob of butter and a little cooking water until smooth. Season to taste.
Season and pan-fry the duck for 5 minutes on a medium heat, skin-side down. Turn the duck breasts over, cover with a lid and cook on a low heat for a further 6 minutes. Remove the duck from the pan and leave to rest for 10 minutes in a warm place, ideally an oven set to 50°C.
Without cleaning the pan, sauté the sprouts and the almonds until hot and starting to caramelise.
Slice the duck and serve with the sprouts, sprout tops, purée and a drizzle of jus.