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A chicken and Brussels sprouts challenge

"Romans called these tender buttons bullata gemmifera (diamond-makers) because consumption was rumoured to enhance a diner's mental agility. However, Mark Antony is said to have chewed sprouts for days before the battle of Actium - so take that hearsay with a grain of salt." Bert Greene

This is one of those posts about devising a meal from what I have. I wanted to find a new and exciting recipe to follow, and I thought, mistakenly as it turned out, that I would easily find something with my chosen ingredients - chicken, Brussels sprouts and salami. After all Brussels sprouts are trendy aren't they? Surely one of my vast repertoire of cooks has something to offer.

How did I arrive at this trio? Well chicken was my first and only thought. We haven't had any for a few days and there are thousands of things you can do with chicken. Then David mentioned that we had a lot of salami. Well that's his fault. I had bought a lot for his wine night, but not many people had gone for the salami, so now we have heaps. Not a problem really as it keeps for some time and is always useful to have to hand anyway. And then I remembered that I had an opened bag of Brussels sprouts, that did actually need using. So there is my trio - which I actually thought were a good match. A tray bake of some kind perhaps?

First of all I perused about a dozen of my cookbooks, the Ottolenghis, the Nigel Slaters, my vegetable specialists - Beverley Sutherland Smith, Bert Greene and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. All to no avail. Indeed I found that Nigel Slater is actually not a fan at all but will somewhat grudgingly suggest it in a salad or a stir fry. Even Jane Grigson is a bit reticent about them. Jamie only has vegetable side options.

I also found, later on that some think that there is a gene with a long number beginning with T that will decide whether you like Brussels sprouts or not. The gene is said to influence the way you taste bitter things, and those who hate Brussels sprouts - many do - say that they are bitter. I like them though and I even like them plain boiled of which Ottolenghi says:

“Why anyone boils sprouts when they could roast or fry them is one of life’s great mysteries,” Yotam Ottolenghi

As for children - the lady writer of The Endless Meal blog, says:

"tell the young ones you've made garlic butter chicken with baby cabbages and everyone will be happy." The Endless Meal

The theory being that children will eat anything with the word 'baby' in it. Mind you a Guardian writer had a rather more amusing and also critical put-down about children's tastes - well she was really talking about Gen Z not real children:

"These pampered infants don’t understand the role of the Christmas sprout. The sprout exists as a reminder that, even on the happiest day of the year, you still have to force down a little pile of vegetables. Life is pain, and that’s why we have sprouts." The Guardian

So I took to the net, deciding that this time I would not go straight to The Guardian and my usual recipe followers, but would give all those thousands of bloggers a chance to see if they came up with anything worth pursuing. And they did. Not quite what I wanted but pointing me in a particular direction. Interestingly they all rather plumped for the same ingredients to boost the chicken and the Brussels sprouts - garlic, butter, lemon and mustard. My salami was not mentioned by any of them but this did not deter me. After all I could just add that to the mix. There were many examples - and I didn't go beyond the first page of suggestions from Google, but here are three that might tempt. Crispy garlic butter chicken and Brussels sprouts from a website called The Endless Meal, which I think I encountered recently somewhere else. This was a pan fried dish and involved chicken stock as well, which appealed, as I have some leftover from something else. Natasha's Kitchen had a very similar Garlic Dijon chicken and Brussels sprouts - well similar in that it involved the same ingredients, but baked and not really mixed together as much. Last of the three is Lemon Garlic Butter Chicken and Brussels Sprouts from Julia's Album, which was even more rigid in separating the chicken from the Brussels sprouts. Why would you do that? wouldn't you want everything tumbled together?

In spite of there being no salami in any of these recipes I was encouraged that my choice of chicken and Brussels sprouts was not completely whacky.

So much for the 'amateurs' if you like. Although amateur these bloggers are not. Most of them have thousands at least of followers and make a living out of it. I wonder if they copy each other. Anyway I did think I should check out the more outwardly professional sites. The Guardian had nothing - that I could use anyway. However there were indeed other professional options - something different was offered by the Food and Wine website with their Pasta shells with chicken and Brussels sprouts but honestly it looked a bit anaemic and I didn't really fancy pasta. Then I found Sheet-pan Lemony chicken with Brussels sprouts on the New York Times website and this one looked very tempting and classy in a messy sort of way.

By now I was beginning to realise that the favourite flavourings for these two main ingredients were lemons, garlic, mustard, plus onions and bacon. Chestnuts were also frequently mentioned but I don't have any of them and anyway I don't like them. Somebody else mentioned peanuts, maybe I could crumble some of them over the top? I had still found no mention of salami, but bacon and pancetta abounded with the occasional sausage, especially chorizo (of course), so why not salami. Of course I cannot now access The New York Times recipe - they only give you one chance - but the lemons here were sliced very thinly and scattered on top in the later stages of cooking. I assume that Sheet-pan - is the American way of saying Tray-bake.

So much for the Americans. What about the Brits and us? Well yes - what about Colin Fassnidge's Chicken, chorizo, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower bake. Alas I have no cauliflower, nor broccoli which he suggests as a substitute, so that part of the equation would have to be left out , and the salami would have to stand in for the chorizo, but yes I could go for this - marinade the chicken - sherry vinegar, cumin, fennel and smoked paprika are involved here, bake and finish with tomatoes. Or to be quite different and choose a more stewy option the BBC in the person of Joe Wicks offered Chicken tagine with spiced Brussels sprouts and feta. Another time perhaps as I have no feta.

It was a very satisfying process really. I felt I had been kind to my cookbook collection by browsing them first, before going for the easy option of the net. That said, of course, the cook-book collection had nothing. Which is also not quite fair. They hold lots of recipes for things to do with Brussels sprouts - but as a vegetable dish, not in combination with chicken - or anything else in the way of protein and chicken was my first thought for dinner tonight. And I had learnt through that internet browsing the things that go with said Brussels sprouts:

"As with spinach, almost any combination of cream, shallots, garlic, wine, mustard, nutmeg and sprouts is going to fly." Tony Naylor

"It's not just sugar that offsets bitterness: salty and sour flavours do the job, too, as do creamy, spicy or nutty elements. Salty anchovies or bacon, sour lemon or lime juice, parmesan shavings, fresh or dried chilli, toasted almonds and fried croutons all help balance the taste." Yotam Ottolenghi

Fried croutons now there's a thought. A day or so ago I made myself some garlic bread, and have some left over. I could tear it into chunks and put it in between the chicken, and sprouts. It would go well. Yes I think I'll go the Terry Durack route and chuck whatever I fancy into a tray and bake it. Maybe I could add a bit of pumpkin as well. I have a piece of pumpkin and it needs to be used. I think pumpkin would be a good companion to the Brussels sprouts. Lemon, garlic, maybe a bit of paprika, that chicken stock and some mustard and parsley.

And here's a random little piece of useless information from Bert Greene. In Germany Brussels sprouts are called Rosenkohl which means cabbage roses - and you can sort of understand that. In Italy though they are called Cavolina de Brussels - the little horses of Brussels. Little horses?

And just to be a tiny bit precious, here is another trendy thing you can do with Brussels sprouts - make chips. Very fashionable - and I think very tedious and time-consuming but pretty. I suspect they wouldn't taste all that good either. I think the bad things about the taste would be enhanced rather than hidden. Brussels sprouts chilli chips - Darren Robertson is responsible for this one.

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