A few weeks ago, I wrote about my idea to write a travel and recipe book. Unlike many other travel or recipe books, it would combine both. For each location, it would have some interesting facts and recommendations things to see and do. The second part would be some recipes of traditional foods to remind you of the trip. As Brussels was the first real travel post, the first food will be from Brussels. This is our recipe for Brussel sprout gratin.
Belgians and sprouts
Brussels is famous for its sprouts. They have even been named after the city. Apart from cheese and sausage, how many foods can say that?
Belgians eat a lot of sprouts. However, in my experience they eat even more chicory (witlof). Their favourite way to eat it is as gratin. It is almost their national dish, and probably would be if it wasn’t for muscles, fries and chocolate.
The tip to eating both Brussel sprouts and witlof is to eat them when they are fresh. Chicory, in particular, will get more and more bitter, once it has been picked. Whether you are lucky enough to get some straight from the market or find some at the supermarket: eat them as soon as you get them.
This recipe is based on a traditional chicory gratin, but has been adapted for Brussel sprouts. Many Brussel sprout gratins will use bacon instead of ham, but I find the saltiness overpowering. The traditional witlof gratin almost always uses ham.
I used schmand in this recipe, but it is not available in all countries. It is a cross between cream and crème frâiche or sour cream. You can use either of these as alternatives.
I prefer to use freshly grated nutmeg in my recipes. I find it is has a nicer taste and smell and doesn’t taste ‘stale’. It is a staple in our mash potato or béchamel sauce, for example. I use this one, but you can use any fine grater or pick up one cheaply at a kitchen store. I have a friend who uses a mini grater the is actually a kids toy – works a treat! If you do
We recommend Comte cheese for this recipe. If you can’t get Comte, try gruyere or a combination. Otherwise use whatever cheese you have – cheddar, emmentaler, Swiss – probably not mozzarella or parmesan though.
This Brussel sprout gratin is great as a side dish with steak or for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. My husband loved it and went back for thirds: this is almost unheard of when it comes to vegetables!
Brussel sprout gratin
- 1kg Brussel sprouts
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 cloves garlic,
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 4 slices of ham, sliced into slithers
- 200 ml cream
- 200 ml schmand
- ½-1 tsp dijon mustard
- salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
- freshly grated nutmeg
- 100g Comte cheese, finely grated.
- Preheat oven for 170°c (fan forced)
- Trim bottoms of the sprouts, remove any dodgy looking leaves and cut each one in half.
- Melt the butter in a ovenproof frypan or dish on medium heat. Saute the Brussel sprouts until the start to soften (about 4 minutes).
- Crush the garlic into the pan, add the onion and ham and stir until the onion is soft and glassy (4-6 minutes).
- Remove from heat. Stir cream, schmand and mustard through the sprouts, scraping and brown off the bottom of the pan as you go. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Return to a low heat and bring to a simmer. Stir through half the cheese.
- If your pan is not oven-safe, transfer to a oven proof dish.
- Top with remaining cheese and in the oven until the cheese is melted and golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.
Serve warm and enjoy!
Using frozen sprouts
I couldn’t get fresh Brussel sprouts to make this recipe, so I used frozen ones instead. To account for the fact that they were frozen, I soaked them briefly in lukewarm water. This got rid of some ice and defrosted them a little. I then cut them in half and got rid of a few leaves that didn’t look happy. Some I also had to cut the tops off.
The other change when using frozen Brussel sprouts is to cook the Brussel sprouts on low heat for about 8 minutes, before adding the onion, garlic and ham. This helps defrost them enough for the next steps in the recipe.
Making in advance
If you are looking to make this Brussel sprout gratin for Christmas or Thanksgiving, you can prepare the dish in advance. Complete all steps except step 7 and just stick it in the oven to melt and brown the cheese once you have taken your turkey or ham out. Melted cheese tends to go hard when reheated: we don’t recommend completing all steps and rewarming the dish.