The Eclectic Quill

Website of Joshua McGee

By

Are Brussels sprouts stalks edible? I cut to the pith.

Share on Facebook17Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+0Pin on Pinterest2Share on StumbleUpon60

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.

00_intact_stalk

  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.

01_sprouts_removed

  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.

02_shoots

  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.

03_cut_stalk_ends

  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.

04_stalks_in_basket

  Bye, guys.  See you in ... fifteen hours?

I started to check every five minutes.  After fifteen minutes, there was not much progress.

05_stalks_at_15

  You about to split?  Guys?

Same at half an hour...

06_stalks_at_30

  Starting to wish I had gone the walking stick route.

At an hour, aha!  Cracks in two of them!

07_stalks_at_one_hour

  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).

08_stalks_complete

  You guys are ... done, maybe?

So, the moment of truth.  What treasure was inside, assuming I could open them?

09_stalk_marrow

  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.

10_stalks_scooped

  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.

11_stalk_spread

  A bit too much lemon.  Whoops.  But you can't tell that from the picture.

So, in short:

  1. Yes, (portions of) the stalks of Brussels sprouts are edible
  2. Yes, they are palatable
  3. Yes, you can use them in recipes
  4. 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.

2 Responses to Are Brussels sprouts stalks edible? I cut to the pith.

  1. Bela Lubkin says:

    Congratulations on your success!

    I'm also a bit impressed by your overthinking :)

    The last two times I bought a whole brussels sprout stalk, I just peeled the stem and ate the core raw.  I will admit that "just peeled" is a bit of an understatement.  It's like a particularly recalcitrant woody broccoli stem.  I used a combination of knives and brute force fingernail-threating hand-ripping.

    The resulting core is like a very dense broccoli stem core.  The flavor is strong, with familial resemblance to broccoli, radishes, rutabaga, etc.  Cut into small circles (.5 to 1 cm), it works well in a salad.

    >Bela<

  2. Eric says:

    1. With heavy  cleaver of hatchet, cut stalk into 4"- 5" lengths.
    2. With a sharp knife running along the stalk's axis, the pieces  will split open.
    3. Place pieces in a bowl with a little water, cover and microwave 5 - 10 minutes.
    4. Pith will be very soft and yummy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *