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 of things to see and do. The second part would contain simple recipes of traditional foods to remind you of your trip. As Brussels was the first real travel post, our first travel recipe will be from Brussels. For this, we have chosen a recipe for Brussel sprout gratin, which is based on the traditional Belgian recipe for chicory gratin.
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Belgians and sprouts
Brussels is famous for its sprouts. They have even been named after the city. Apart from cheese, sausage and baked goods, how many foods can say that? Not that many, especially not many that are now grown and enjoyed throughout the world (Fuji apples and bourbon vanilla might be the exception).
Belgians eat a lot of sprouts. They are proud of it and you can buy all manner of souvenirs with sprouts on them.
However, in my experience, Belgians tend to eat even more chicory (witlof) than the do Brussel sprouts. Their favourite way to eat it is as a 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 Belgian chicory gratin, but I have adapted it for Brussel sprouts. Many Brussel sprout gratins use bacon instead of ham, but I find the saltiness overpowering. I wanted our fresh Brussel sprouts to really shine. In contrast, a traditional Belgian chicory gratin almost always uses ham.
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.
What is Schmand?
I used schmand in this recipe. It is very popular in Germany but is not available in all countries. It is a cross between cream and crème frâiche or sour cream, but tends to have the consistency of crème frâiche. You can use either of these as alternatives.
Schmand can also be used in frosting recipes. Try it in our chocolate crème frâiche frosting, for example. I have also used it where I could not get double cream. It is slightly sour, so it tends to prevent the frosting from getting too sweet.
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’. German housewives will almost always add it to their mashed potato and I also like to put it in my béchamel sauce, for example. I use this grater, 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 that is actually a kids toy – works a treat!
Which cheese should I use?
We recommend Comte cheese for this recipe. If you can’t get Comte, try gruyere or a combination. Otherwise use whatever stronger cheese you have on hand – cheddar, Emmentaler, Swiss – probably not mozzarella or parmesan though.
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.
Try our Brussel sprout gratin next time you want Brussel sprouts
In contrast to chicory gratin (which the Belgians will eat as a main dish), this Brussel sprout gratin is great as a side dish with steak. It is perfect for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, particularly because it can be made in advance.
It is a wonderful dish. As proof: Peter loved it and went back for thirds. This is almost unheard of for him when it comes to vegetables!
Do you like Brussel sprouts? Have you tried chicory gratin? You will definitely like our Brussel sprout gratin – serve it as a side dish for your next holiday dinner, or just with steak or chicken because you want to.
Brussel sprout gratin
- Non-stick frypan with metal grip
- 1 kg 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
- 100 g 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 an ovenproof frypan or dish on medium heat. Saute the Brussel sprouts until they 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 low heat and bring to a simmer. Stir through half the cheese.
- If your pan is not oven-safe, transfer to an ovenproof dish.
- Top with remaining cheese and in the oven until the cheese is melted and golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.