I’ve always cut a cross into the bottom of Brussels Sprouts. I do it because my mother taught me to do that. And she does it because her mother taught her to do it.
It was a part of the preparation that always made sense to me on some level – common sense. Like looking both ways before crossing a road, or not talking to strangers. The stem is tougher and woodier than the more delicate leaves, so surely it helps things to cook more evenly.
Recently, however, I’ve been seeing conflicting information on this topic. I’ve always kind of ignored people who say it’s not necessary. Brushing off these claims as coming from people who don’t really understand sprouts. Or maybe people who overcook sprouts so as to compensate for the under cooked middle. Or people who simply don’t have the palate to understand the implications of the mushy overcooked outer leaves.
Why shouldn’t you cross sprouts?
A few weeks ago, I saw something on my beloved BBC Good Food website. One of my favourite resources. This also told me that this whole crossing sprout topic was a waste of time and energy. Maybe all these naysayers weren’t wrong! A little more research told me that it can actually have the opposite effect – making the sprouts waterlogged and mushy all the way through. And no one wants that.
I decided that I had to put this to rest. I literally couldn’t face this Christmas with this issue unresolved. Extreme I know, but I’m sensitive to wasting time. Waiting until Christmas dinner itself was not an option either – what if it didn’t work? A sub-par Christmas dinner is not an option for me.
There was only one way to really answer this question: To test it myself.
The Sprout Test
- One big bag of sprouts
- 3 cooking methods – boiled, steamed, roasted
- 50% crossed, 50% uncrossed
- I cooked both crossed and uncrossed sprouts together in the same round to make sure there were no variations in the cooking (such as temperature or time) which would affect the results
- I aimed to cook sprouts of similar sizes in the experiment
With each batch I did 2 tests to understand the ‘tenderness’ of the stem:
- Using a standard table knife to cut down the middle of the sprout from top to bottom. Ensuring that the cut went right through the stem.
- The taste test – taking a bite from the bottom of the sprout
The Results – Does Crossing Brussels Sprouts Work?
I boiled the sprouts for 4 minutes. That was more than enough to get them a little softer than I’d usually cook.
I noticed absolutely zero difference with either the knife test or the taste test between those which were crossed and those which were not. I tried 3 different sprouts of each preparation – 3 crossed and 3 uncrossed.
I steamed the sprouts for 5 minutes in a covered steamer basket over an inch of already boiling water.
I found the knife test made no difference – the sprouts seemed equally easy to cut into. On my first bite test I thought I noticed a very sight difference in tenderness with the ones that were crossed. I tried a couple more of each variation and could not discern any difference at all!
I roasted the sprouts for just over 20 minutes. The ones they had in the supermarket weren’t particularly large so I didn’t want to overdo them. This batch were the least ‘cooked’ overall from all the methods. As in, they had the most crunch and were the firmest.
In the first round I tried, I felt there was an ever-so-slight difference in how easy it was to bite into the bottom/stem part of the sprout. On cutting with a regular table knife I couldn’t tell any difference.
After that I tried another 4 rounds With one more of those rounds I felt like there was some very, very slight difference in tenderness. But the other 3 I did not. To be honest, the difference was so slight I’m not entirely sure that I could tell any difference in the second round.
The thing is – trust me – I wanted there to be a difference (which is surely a bias in this experiment). I didn’t want to think that I’d been doing something pointlessly all this time. Or think of the hours spent crossing sprouts over the last 20 years… (I’m sure it adds up to something signifiant!)
Will I be crossing sprouts this year? Nope. I couldn’t really tell any difference when really concentrating and biting into only the bottom part of the sprout. I don’t think there was really any difference at all to be honest. So, would people eating sprouts as part of a big turkey and gravy filled forkful notice a difference? Definitely not.
The only time I felt there was a minimal (we are talking 1-2%) difference was in the roasted variety, which were less cooked. So perhaps if you are only very lightly cooking them there might be some slight difference – but I didn’t try a cooking method that was under-cooked enough to make a big difference.
What are your thoughts on this? Were you always taught to cross sprouts? Have you tested this in the past? Will you be bothering going forward?
Are you now craving sprouts? Yeah, me too…
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