When I was a kid, I imagined Brussels sprouts as little cabbages with their heads growing out of the ground, carefully picked in Belgium by ... children, maybe? ... and sent to us in the States.
That's not how they grow. They grow like this.
You've seen this before but you're still slightly creeped out by it, right?
It's quick and easy to go down the stalk and twist-and-snap off the little sprouts. So easy, in fact, that it's baffling that you usually pay much less (per sprout) if you buy a whole stalk of them.
They're not uniform in size, but that just gives you more ideas of what to do with the different sizes.
But that stalk! Aye, that stalk! It's heavy. It's like a baseball bat. And I feel so wasteful every time I compost one or (with no compost bin these days) throw one in the trash. Can a Brussels sprout stalk be eaten? Is it edible?
So I turned to Google, and someone else had asked the question on Chowhound — in 2003, it turns out, so I'm not exactly the first one to ponder this.
The comments are fascinating. Some people said "yes". Others said "no". Some said they took a lot of peeling and weren't worth the effort. Another emphasized their woodiness by noting that other cultivars have stalks that are used as walking sticks. Many pointed out that the shoots were edible and tasty.
And soft, and lovely. I might put them into a stir-fry.
But one person said the trick was to "hack them" into six-inch segments and steam the pieces. They would crack open when they were "done".
Aha. A lead.
But as to that verb "hack": yikes. I don't own a cleaver. I'm never going to own a cleaver. I'm terrified of cleavers. But my stalk seemed pretty fresh, and I thought really leaning down on the blade of a sharp, heavy knife would work. So I went up the stalk, counting in six-inch increments, and wondering if the Brussels walking stick was ruining my $54 J.A. Henckels santoku.
Turns out you don't have to cut all the way through the stalk. If you score it about 1/4" deep all the way around, you can break it into segments. No hacking and less knife-dulling.
Awesome. Now I could see what was inside.
This was inside.
Steam them until they're "done", huh? You could hammer in nails with the core of that stalk. I could see someone going through this exercise and thinking "Forget trying to get food out of it. Next time I'm just using it as a walking stick."
But into the steamer basket they went. And I wondered how long "done" would take to reach.
Bye, guys. See you in ... fifteen hours?
I started to check every five minutes. After fifteen minutes, there was not much progress.
You about to split? Guys?
Same at half an hour...
Starting to wish I had gone the walking stick route.
At an hour, aha! Cracks in two of them!
That guy on Chowhound might not just be messing with the readers.
At 1:45, I could press my thumbnail into the core of the stalk (but could still have used the outer ring as a bludgeoning weapon).
You guys are ... done, maybe?
So, the moment of truth. What treasure was inside, assuming I could open them?
This was the treasure.
It was coarse. It could easily have handled more time in the steamer — maybe another half hour, or hour even. But it was soft enough to scoop out with a spoon.
The marrow was no match for the mighty teaspoon.
Aaaand now I had a bowl full of coarse, warm brassica pulp. I tasted it. It wasn't bad at all. Maybe a cross between a broccoli stem and an undercooked artichoke heart. Puree it, maybe, I thought. Get some fat and liquid into it and see if I can spread it on some home-baked sourdough. A touch of parsley, perhaps, to make it look like it was worth three hours' time.
I put the pulp into the mini-prep; added mayonnaise, kosher salt, freshly-ground black pepper, rubbed sage, and (a little too much) fresh lemon juice; and I gave it a whirl. Then I removed the lid and added a little more mayonnaise, and whirled it some more. Then I stopped it, scraped down the sides, engaged it in a staring contest to convince it to become a puree, and ran the mini-prep one more time.
And this delicacy is what I ended up with.
A bit too much lemon. Whoops. But you can't tell that from the picture.
So, in short:
- Yes, (portions of) the stalks of Brussels sprouts are edible
- Yes, they are palatable
- Yes, you can use them in recipes
- Is it worth a few hours of cutting, steaming, scooping, seasoning, and pureeing to make a cup of spread? You'll have to judge that one yourself.