Brussels sprouts — long relegated to the bottom of the culinary barrel alongside lima beans, liver and the occasional fruitcake — have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years.
But there's an enduring reason so many have wrinkled their noses at this Thanksgiving meal staple: They smell. Like broccoli, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables, Brussels sprouts are rich in hydrogen sulfide gas. When cooked, those stinky gases escape, offering a less-than-warm welcome to Thanksgiving meal guests.
But it doesn't have to be that way, food chemist and cookbook author Shirley Corriher tells All Things Considered host Melissa Block. The amount of hydrogen sulfide gas released from sprouts, broccoli and cabbage doubles between five and seven minutes of cooking time, Corriher says. "So the real secret to cooking these is to cook them less than five minutes."
You can further reduce any unpleasant Thanksgiving Day odors, Corriher says, by precooking your sprouts a day ahead. Boil them for just under five minutes, she says, and then rinse them in cold water to stop the cooking.
"I love to reheat them with butter in a big skillet and some bread crumbs," she says. "Then throw in your sprouts, and toss them around to reheat them, and then serve."
Another must-have dish on Corriher's Thanksgiving table is her grandmother's oyster stew. "Oysters were such a rare treat," she says. "She only had them at Thanksgiving and Christmas, for the big feast."
When her "Nanny" passed away, Corriher says, "my aunt and uncle always got me to make [it]." Now it's her job to maintain that delicious tradition.
Recipe: Nanny's Scalloped Oysters
This is the way that I have made the oyster dish that my grandmother prepared for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I don't know that it is the way she made it, but my aunt and uncle love it when I make it, and always wanted me to make the oysters after Nanny was gone.
5 tablespoons of butter, divided
4 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup milk
2 cups heavy cream
3 cups saltine cracker crumbs
2 pints shucked oysters, drained
Preheat the oven to 350 [degrees] with the rack in the center.
Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan. Stir in the flour, salt and pepper. Stir steadily on low heat for several minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the milk, a little at a time, to keep it smooth.
Return the pan to the stove, turn to medium heat and continue stirring. Slowly stir in the cream. Continue heating and stirring until you have a thin cream sauce.
With 1 tablespoon of butter, grease a 2-quart casserole dish well. Sprinkle a layer of crumbs over the bottom of the dish. Cover with a layer of oysters and a layer of crumbs. Pour about a fourth of the cream sauce over this. Continue with layers of oysters, crumbs and cream sauce until all the oysters and crumbs are used, and pour the remaining cream sauce over the top.
Place the casserole on the arranged shelf and bake until bubbly around the edges, about 30 to 40 minutes. Serve hot.
Recipe: Sweet-Tart Fresh Strawberries
Since Marcella Hazan introduced balsamic vinegar to Americans, many people put it on strawberries. My friend Terry Ford, owner of the Enterprise newspaper in Ripley, Tenn., adds brown sugar, which finishes off the sweetness and gives an even deeper red color to the berries. Some recipes call for fresh-cracked black pepper. I like to add a little salt. I have a tall, moderately narrow clear glass vase that I serve these berries in. They are so eye-catching that you need to serve them in clear glass. These are ideal at parties or as a light dessert.
2 quarts fresh strawberries, hulled
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
About 1 to 2 hours before serving time, toss the strawberries with the brown sugar, salt and balsamic vinegar in a large mixing bowl. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes, then toss again. Refrigerate and toss again. Drain and serve cold in a clear glass container. You can save the liquid and reuse.
Yield: 12 servings
Sweet-Tart Strawberries recipe from CookWise by Shirley O. Corriher. Copyright 1997 by Shirley O. Corriher. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow Cookbooks.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Calories, schmalories. We are a hungry lot here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, crossing off the days before Thanksgiving and fantasizing about food. That's why we've been getting menu suggestions and tips from cooks for the past week and probably making you hungry as well. Who better to help today than Shirley Corriher. She's an Atlanta-based food chemist and cookbook author and veteran of many a Thanksgiving feast.
She's got her own holiday tradition. It's her grandmother's scalloped oyster recipe.
SHIRLEY CORRIHER: Oysters were such a rare, rare treat, she only had them Thanksgiving and Christmas for the big feast. And she would layer oysters on the bottom and then layer saltine crackers and then pour in a nice, rich cream sauce made with half milk and half heavy cream and thickened. And then another layer of oysters and a layer of crackers and all the way up that way and then she would put it in the oven and roast it until it was all bubbly and wonderful.
Now, my aunt and uncle always got me to make that and bring it Thanksgiving.
BLOCK: That was your job.
CORRIHER: That was my job.
BLOCK: I want to ask you about something green, Shirley. I love roasting broccoli and I love roasting brussel sprouts. And here's the problem, my whole house smells terrible when I do it.
CORRIHER: Yes, yes, yes, alas.
CORRIHER: The stinky gas, hydrogen sulfide, the amount of hydrogen sulfide gas that comes off of your cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, between five minutes of cooking time and seven minutes, doubles. So the real secret to cooking these is to cook them less than five minutes. My favorite way of preparing all of these vegetables is to pre-cook them the day ahead.
And I love to reheat them with butter in the big skillet and some bread crumbs and then throw in your brussel sprouts or it can be your broccoli or cabbage, fine shreds of cabbage, and toss them around until they're reheated and then serve.
BLOCK: But what if you want to roast them, Shirley, like, get them nice and crunchy and crispy and nutty in the oven?
CORRIHER: Well, I am afraid you're gonna have that stinky hydrogen sulfide all over your house.
BLOCK: No way to avoid that, huh?
CORRIHER: No. Well, you might pre-cook them like I suggested and then under the broiler until they begin to brown, just, you know, a couple of minutes. That might work.
BLOCK: What is it about that fateful five to seven minute window that releases that nasty stuff?
CORRIHER: Well, that's the way the gas starts forming in them as they cook and it just goes kebang and doubles after five minutes.
BLOCK: Shirley, what about an idea for dessert that's not the traditional, not a pumpkin pie, not the heavy pecan pie, something maybe lighter for the end of a meal?
CORRIHER: Oh, eat strawberries, strawberries with balsamic vinegar and brown sugar. Toss them around and let them soak in a balsamic brown sugar for, oh, an hour or two, and then drain them and save the liquid because you can use it again tomorrow. And it has stained those strawberries this deep, deep red and they're just gorgeous.
So you want to put them in a tall, clear glass vase and have a fork or some of those long toothpicks to stab them.
BLOCK: Well, Shirley, have a very happy Thanksgiving.
CORRIHER: Oh, you, too, Melissa. And eat up. I'm planning on it.
BLOCK: Me, too. Kitchen chemist Shirley Corriher, author of "CookWise." And you can find her recipe for scalloped oysters at our website, NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.