vegetable roasting question
December 31, 2020 10:52 PM   Subscribe

Novice cook here: roasted brussels sprouts are not turning out how I want - can you help me with adjustments?

I tried two recipes:

First recipe called for preheating oven to 400F and roasting for 40min, following this the brussels sprouts turned out mushy on the inside and burnt on the outside.

Second recipe called for preheating oven to 425F and roasting for 20min, following this the inside was good but the outside was still burnt (dark brown color on leaves, distinctive burnt taste, cut side was almost entirely blackened).

How do I adjust so that the inside turns out like the second recipe, and the outside doesn't get burnt? I suspect I need to lower the temperature, but for some reason all the recipes say it's important to use high heat and none give a temperature below 400F.

Related: for roasting vegetables, are there general rules that tell you how adjusting temp, time, and amount of oil affect the end result's internal doneness, external doneness, crispness, etc.?

Thank you for your help!
posted by dragonfruit to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Are you tossing the sprouts halfway through the cooking time? Are you tossing them in oil before cooking?
posted by monotreme at 11:03 PM on December 31, 2020 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Could your oven run hot (i.e. do you have a thermometer inside that tells you that the actual temperature matches the temperature that the oven thinks it's at)?

Generally, I think of temperature = outside, duration = inside, oil = crispiness, so your instinct of decreasing the temperature is good.
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:20 PM on December 31, 2020 [3 favorites]

You probably do want the high temperature, with less time. That should get the outside roasted before the insides have time to get too soft. I like the suggestion of making sure that they're well coated in oil. How dark is the dark brown? Most of the time when I get roasted brussels sprouts, there's lots of browning, and even a little blackening, on the outside.
posted by pykrete jungle at 11:43 PM on December 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

For sprouts I make a packet of tin foil and tuck them inside- about 1/4-1/3 time before they are done I open the packet by just unfolding the sides to be flat with the sheet pan so the outside crisps up.
I do not advise this method if you want the inside to be super crispy as it makes for a more tender (not mushy) sprout. For crispy throughout ones toss evenly in the oil, turn them often, and at a lower temp. If you want them to crisp up more at the end you can crank up the heat for like ten minutes but there’s a good chance they’ll burn more that way.
posted by shesaysgo at 12:43 AM on January 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: At the risk of bragging, I make incredible brussels sprouts. The secret is that I parboil them before I bake them. This avoids the problem you're describing. The insides are always perfectly cooked while the outsides aren't burnt.

Basically, I cut the brussels sprouts into bite-sized pieces (usually in half). Then I steam the brussels sprouts until they're 1/2 to 3/4 cooked (fairly soft without being completely done). Then, I pour them into a colander to cool and dry. It's best if you leave them a while. I later pat them off with kitchen towels or paper towels until they are totally dry (this prevents them steaming and lets them crisp up in the oven). I then toss them in warmed ghee so that all sides of the brussels sprouts are covered in the fat. (It's important to use a fat that has a high smoke point, which is why I use ghee rather than butter or olive oil.) I get a cookie sheet out, put a silicone baking sheet or tin foil on it, and put the cut side down of the brussels sprouts down. Spread the brussels out so they don't touch, using two cookie sheets if need be. I then bake them. I'm still playing around with ideal temperature, but it's fairly flexible since they're mostly cooked and you're just trying to finish the cooking and crisp up the outsides. I've most recently done 400 or 425. Keep them in there until they're done to your liking (definitely until they're crisped, and you can go until they're a bit charred if you like but you don't need to).

Anyway, I've done baking only and it always produced hard insides. In my experience, with baking only, if the insides are done, the outside is way overcooked. That's why it's important to parboil them, as annoying as it is. Give it a shot and report back!
posted by ClaireBear at 2:42 AM on January 1, 2021 [36 favorites]

I've often tried to mimic the amazing restaurant brussel sprouts and this video gave me the best results yet.
posted by bbqturtle at 3:23 AM on January 1, 2021

Depending on how many you want to make at one time, I have found this easier to do in a large frypan or sauté pan on the stovetop.
posted by slkinsey at 4:43 AM on January 1, 2021 [6 favorites]

I think ClaireBear's solution is the one that will give you what you want--parboil then roast. When I used to do that I'd cut them in half, parboil for 5 min, toss in oil, salt, pep, put them in a preheated 400-ish oven for 20 min, then turn them and roast another 10 minutes.

Then one day I skipped the parboiling step and it didn't make that much difference, except for the noticeable char on the outside. People in the household liked that, so I've since adopted that method even though to my eye the sprouts look burnt. The easiest way to make them soft on the inside is to crowd the baking sheet so they steam slightly. NB: the turning-with-tongs-at-hot-stove part can be tiresome.
posted by Morpeth at 6:12 AM on January 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

I’ve never had a problem roasting them but if they are largish, I cut them into halves or quarters then give them a good coating in olive oil. Oven should be at least 400. Make sure they are in a single layer with space between each piece.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:42 AM on January 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Could your oven run hot (i.e. do you have a thermometer inside that tells you that the actual temperature matches the temperature that the oven thinks it's at)?

I recently discovered that my oven runs a full 50 degrees cooler than what the digital readout says. It’s worth checking to see if you have the opposite problem.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:57 AM on January 1, 2021

Best answer: I do the parcook then roast method for sprouts, but I just microwave them for 1.5 (smaller sprouts)-2 minutes so they aren't taking on any extra water from boiling or steaming. Halve them first, toss them well in oil, microwave - do all this while the oven and pan preheat to 400. Get the pan out of the oven and put a little oil on it, lay the nuked sprouts cut side down, put back in oven.

And then I check them after 10 minutes and every 5 after that, which is where I think you're actually going wrong. Recipe instructions cannot know anything about your oven, local humidity that day, the size or quality of your sprouts. Sometimes I get monster (in size and density) sprouts and after 10 minutes they don't even look cooked, in which case I don't check again for another 10 at least and they may very well go 30+ minutes total. If your oven's heat element is on the bottom, you may want to start on a lower rack for the first stage of cooking and then move it up to a higher rack where it will brown more.

When they start to look pretty brown to you from the top, take the pan out and poke one with a sharp knife or the point of an instant-read thermometer and see how much give they have. This is really the only true road test of a roasted vegetable. If they're browning too fast and the inside is still hard, you'll either need to turn the heat down 25 degrees or put foil over the top (which will slow the radiant heat browning and trap a bit but not too much moisture to help the vegetable steam itself).

When you do this successfully a few times, you will develop a bit of a feel for how it's going to go and will not have to stand over them like this, but you will still need a timer to keep you on your toes.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:11 AM on January 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Not crowding the pan makes a big difference. Each sprout piece needs a bit of space, or else the individual pieces won’t roast, they’ll steam as they come to temp. The steaming cooks the insides quite fast, and prevents browning on the outside (mailard reaction occurs above 212, where the sprouts will stay as long as they’re steamy), leading to mushy insides and delaying crispy brownness from developing until they’ve dried out, at which point they’ll blacken so quickly you’ll be lucky to pull them in time.
posted by skewed at 8:12 AM on January 1, 2021 [6 favorites]

Parboil then roast is good but I’ve also had good results in the opposite way when searing in a pan. Halve or quarter them, sautée quite high heat until you have the outside leaves nicely caramelised. Then turn it down, add water /stock/ white wine or a mix of the above, put a lid on until the sprouts are the texture you like and the liquid has evaporated .
posted by tardigrade at 10:17 AM on January 1, 2021

I halve them and roast for 20 minutes at 400. 40 minutes seems waaay too long.
posted by Candleman at 11:48 AM on January 1, 2021

We cut ours in half if they’re really big, toss them with olive oil, and roast at 450° F until they’re done. Try not to crowd the pan or they’ll steam and get mushy inside. Toss after 15 minutes, check after 10 more, and then go by doneness. They get nice and toasty brown, but not black. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by fedward at 7:13 PM on January 1, 2021

Same approach as fedward here... I roast them between 400-450 for 20 mins or so—I think the keys are cutting the sprouts in half and using plenty of oil. They should be quite brown on the outside for maximum flavor.
posted by music for skeletons at 8:12 PM on January 1, 2021

I do the parcook then roast method for sprouts, but I just microwave them for 1.5 (smaller sprouts)-2 minutes so they aren't taking on any extra water from boiling or steaming. Halve them first, toss them well in oil, microwave - do all this while the oven and pan preheat to 400. Get the pan out of the oven and put a little oil on it, lay the nuked sprouts cut side down, put back in oven.

The microwave oven is absolutely the correct tool for pre-cooking vegetables that are destined to be finished in a proper oven.

Personally I prefer to just throw my veggies into the microwave with almost no preparation. This gives them almost no chance to dry out in there, even if I'm deliberately trying to pre-cook for long enough to get them mushy.

So for sprouts I'd turn on the real oven to get it preheating, then throw all the sprouts into the microwave whole, straight onto the carousel tray. Blast them on High for a few minutes, then take one out and cut it in half to see how the insides were going. If it's still a bit crunchier than I want, put it back in with the others and blast them all for another minute. Once they get to the texture I want I take them out, halve them, oil them, and arrange them in the oven pan, by which time the oven is more-or-less preheated.

For sweet corn, I throw whole cobs into the microwave, husks and silk and all, so they steam inside their jackets. Let them cool down for a couple of minutes before peeling off the husks or you'll get steam burns.

For perfect jacket potatoes in a hurry: turn on the oven to pre-heat it, slit the potato skins around their largest equator so they don't explode in either the microwave or the oven, then just dump them straight onto the microwave's carousel tray and nuke them until they start to smell like cooked potatoes. Then carry the carousel tray to the oven and move the spuds onto the oven racks with tongs, again to avoid steam burns. This lets me set the oven temperature to Volcano to crisp up the skins really quickly, most of the cooking of the insides having been achieved by the microwave.

You get much more control over the balance between how cooked the insides are and how cooked the outsides are by using two separate tools to do most of both.
posted by flabdablet at 6:34 AM on January 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: for some reason all the recipes say it's important to use high heat and none give a temperature below 400F

It's done this way so that the outsides get hot enough to brown in about the same amount of time as the insides get hot enough to soften.

In general, if you're cooking stuff in an oven and your outsides are burning while your insides are still undercooked, the oven temperature was set too high, and next time you make the same thing you want to lower the temp and possibly lengthen the cooking time to compensate.

If your outsides are burning and your insides are overcooked, the first thing to try is just shortening the cooking time. The judgement you need to compensate for influences like piece size and your own oven's idiosyncratic performance will come with practice.

You might find, for your particular oven and some particular combination of roast ingredients, that in order to avoid burning the outsides you need to lower the temperature so much that everything kind of dries out before the insides are cooked to your satisfaction. Fixing this is where the microwave pre-cook option really shines.

Another valuable principle to keep in mind: More Oil. Adding truly heroic amounts of fats to your cookery is the secret to achieving restaurant-grade results (keep in mind that as long as a restaurant serves food that's well known to be delicious, it doesn't really need to pay attention to avoiding killing off customers with heart disease).
posted by flabdablet at 6:45 AM on January 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

I've started making them as described in (similar text Quick, easy, and delicious.
posted by majikstreet at 10:07 AM on January 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

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