Brussels Sprout Gratin – With Heretical Technique – Recipe

Brussels Sprout Gratin
Brussels Sprouts Gratin

Brussels sprouts are such a trendy ingredient, and we've all learned how terrific they are roasted or sauteed at high heat until caramelized and nutty-tasting. Still, sometimes it is good to look back to a more traditional technique. Dare I say it: French technique. Enter the gratin.

A gratin is basically anything (usually a vegetable) baked in a shallow dish, often with cream, until the top is crispy. Essentially the forerunner of the great American casserole, but with fewer ingredients and a little more attention to detail. With Brussels sprouts, the gratin treatment brings out their gentle, sweet side.

The downfall of many gratins is that it is hard to manage the timing so that the vegetable is at the point of perfect tenderness at the same moment the sauce is appropriately thickened and the top crunchy. The best solution is to cook all three components separately, and then combine them just long enough to get to know each other in the oven.

Paul Bocuse, Photo by Jarle Vines

Par-cooking the Brussels sprouts can be done in a big pot of salted water. The risk is that they can easily get waterlogged, and you have to dry them very thoroughly to avoid diluting the cream. So here's where the heresy comes in, and I can just about feel Paul Bocuse staring right through me when I say this: use your microwave.

That's right. The microwave can be a very effective way to quickly and lightly cook vegetables without getting them soggy. In this case it is probably better than the big pot because the heat penetrates right to the core of each sprout. Just be sure and not go too long or you'll be in overcooked, cabbagey, sulfur-smell territory.

In the same vein, I think it is better to make the reduced cream sauce on the stovetop, rather than counting on it to thicken in the oven. No starch is added. Unlike other dairy products, cream can be simmered to the desired thickness without scorching or breaking, and the flavor and mouthfeel of reduced heavy cream is luxurious beyond belief.

Although there are several steps in this recipe, you can actually be preparing the sauce, par-cooking the sprouts, and toasting the breadcrumbs at the same time, so it comes together quickly.

To get the Brussels sprouts ready for cooking, remove any tough or spotted outer leaves so that you a small, tight ball. Trim off a bit of the base, but leave enough intact to hold the head together.

Brussels Sprout Gratin
Vegetarian; not vegan nor gluten-free
Serves 2 as a side dish, easily doubled

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 small white onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried (optional, but delicious)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • black pepper
  • freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups trimmed and cleaned Brussels sprouts (see above)
  • 1/2 cup homemade breadcrumbs or panko
  • 1/4 cup grated Grana Padana or Paramigiano Reggiano cheese (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 F.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute for 2 minutes. Add the oregano, heavy cream and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to barely maintain a bubble. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it will coat the back of a spoon.
  3. When the sauce is thick enough, add several grinds of black pepper, a few gratings of fresh nutmeg (or a nice pinch of pre-ground), and the cheese. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  4. Meanwhile, microwave the Brussels sprouts with a few tablespoons of water for about 5 minutes, stopping to stir occasionally, until you can just pierce them with a fork. If you start to get a cabbagey odor, stop cooking! Drain.
  5. In a skillet, melt 1 more tablespoon of butter and toast the breadcrumbs with a pinch of salt until nicely browned.
  6. Put the sprouts in an even layer in a low gratin dish, preferably just big enough to hold them. Pour the cream sauce over them. Bake in the oven for 5-8 minutes or so, until you can see that the sauce is starting to bubble.
  7. Cover with the breadcrumbs and optional cheese, and return to the oven for 3 more minutes, and serve immediately.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, January 18th, 2010 in Recipes, Side Dishes.

18 Responses to “Brussels Sprout Gratin – With Heretical Technique – Recipe”

  1. Reply
    January 18, 2010 at 12:55 pm #

    Thank you. I was looking for something to do with the brussles sprouts that are sitting in my fridge. I guess they’ll be dinner tonight.

  2. Reply
    January 18, 2010 at 2:56 pm #

    All I need is this gratin, a blanket, a remote control, and a fork and this pneumonia will be vanquished. Wait, I take that back. I don’t need the fork. Could you put some of this in a padded envelope and send it to Portland? Please?

  3. Reply
    January 18, 2010 at 3:49 pm #

    I love the sound of this gratin. Brussel sprouts are amazing!

  4. Reply
    January 18, 2010 at 6:21 pm #

    This is a great recipe!! Your photo grabbed me on Tastespotting! I love that you proudly admit to using the microwave with these babies. I too soften my brussels sprouts up with the good old mv. Sometimes you just gotta go there. The crunch with these sprouts must be grand 🙂

  5. Reply
    January 18, 2010 at 10:14 pm #

    This is an interesting technique, I’m looking forward to trying it!

  6. Reply
    January 18, 2010 at 11:11 pm #

    I love using my microwave to jump start cooking on grilled potatoes. I’m not a huge Brussels spout fan, but wife and oldest daughter sure are. Knowing how amazing your recipes normally are, Michael, I’m definitely going to give this one a try. Maybe you can covert me to Brussels spouts.

  7. Reply
    January 19, 2010 at 5:09 am #

    The microwave is great for MANY veggies. One of my favorite tricks: “par cooking” in the uWave. For example, when we make something sort of fajita-like at my place, the peppers get cooked separately. They take forever. But 5 min in the uWave, while the onions are getting sauteed, and they’re 80% done.
    Other things that work really well in the microwave: asparagus (yep! I like it steamed, too, and grilled. But I actually prefer the results I get from the microwave. The only tricky bit is timing: if you cook a whole fistful, it takes about 5 min in my (smallish) oven. If you cook 5 spears for 5 min, you’ll end up with charcoal.); broccoli (put the stem-parts up and the florets down — the beam’s higher intensity mid-oven, and this balances the cooking nicely); chard (to pre-wilt it enough to make it fit in the frying pan); corn on the cob; the list goes on and on. And brussels sprouts are terrific. Even if you’re going to roast or pan-fry them to get that browned-and-nutty flavor, a pre-cook in the microwave can help out.

  8. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    January 19, 2010 at 8:14 am #

    @John, @John & @Marla – Good to see other folks "owning" the microwave! I think it is a great kitchen tool when you understand how it works and what it can and can't do well. Nice tip about the broccoli, getting the stems into the higher intensity beam.

  9. Reply
    January 19, 2010 at 9:37 am #

    There is not one restaurant that I worked in that did not have a microwave stationed somewhere in the kitchen. Most uses for defrosting or heating up small batches of items. And typically in dessert stations for “quick” heating of single portions for hot dessert menu items.

  10. Reply
    January 19, 2010 at 11:28 am #

    Visiting for the first time via Tastespotting. This dish looks and sounds really delicious. The heresy of your technique is genius. 😉

  11. Reply
    January 20, 2010 at 3:48 pm #

    I’d like to take this to my aunt’s house for dinner, but I’m worried about transportation, as she lives an hour away and the most I can hope for is a little oven reheating time. Do you think doing everything but adding the breadcrumbs prior to departure and finishing it an hour later would be feasible?

  12. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    January 20, 2010 at 4:17 pm #

    @Stacy – I think that would be fine. Just before dinner, reheat the sprouts + reduced cream in the microwave so it happens more quickly, and then just add the breadcrumbs and broil for a minute or two to finish.

  13. Reply
    January 21, 2010 at 9:22 pm #

    Ha! Laughing at the Paul Bocuse comment and pic! Thanks for the tip, love sprouts.

  14. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    January 21, 2010 at 10:03 pm #

    @Heidi – I'm glad someone appreciated that pic! He looks downright ornery there, doesn't he?

  15. Reply
    Tim Roth
    November 4, 2012 at 8:34 pm #

    Just tried this, because I happened to catch Michael demonstrating it on PBS. Great results! And steamed the sprouts to al dente first vs. microwaving. This worked just fine.

    Thanx Michael!

    • Reply
      November 4, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

      Glad you liked it, Tim! And for sure, steaming is a fine alternative.

  16. Reply
    November 20, 2012 at 10:39 pm #

    We made this recipe a few times right after you first posted it and loved it. Having been reminded of it, we’re planning to make it for Thanksgiving to take to my in-law’s house, about 40 minutes away. Would you recommend assembling it but waiting to bake it until we get down to their house, or baking it at home and reheating? We never had leftovers when we made it before, so we have no idea if it reheats well. 🙂

    • Reply
      November 20, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

      My preference would be to assemble it at home and bake at their house; I think you’ll have more control that way. You might want to leave the breadcrumbs off and add them after the cream has started bubbling.

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