The Sunday Food-Related Post: A Side Dish To Add a (Semi-)Health Touch
Americans seem to have an uneasy relationship with Brussels sprouts. When my youngest son was two or so he created quite a stir in the grocery store produce isle by saying in a loud, enthusiastic voice as I picked out a bagful, “Oh, boy, Brussels sprouts!!!”
But they have, oddly, become rather fashionable, and you can scarcely pick up a fancy restaurant menu without seeing some form of Brussels sprouts in some non-traditional form. But those of us with some British connection (in my case, my husband,) have been eating them all along. For years I cooked them in the standard semi-steamed fashion—cut a little x in the stem end and throw them into a saucepan with enough water to cook them but not more. And of course I carefully avoided Brussels sprouts hell, into which one plummets when you let them cook just that little bit too long. There’s nothing like the breakdown of those sulfur compounds to give you a whiff straight from the pit.
Then a few years ago I discovered how much easier and more delicious it was to cut them in half longways, arrange them cut-side down in a single layer on a pan generously coated with olive oil, drizzle a bit more on the tops, and roast them at 425 or so until the tops are getting crispy-ish and the inside is sufficiently cooked.
But thanks to my niece, I now have a new go-to method, and plan to serve it at Thanksgiving along with our traditional leg of lamb. No turkeys for this family…
And the best part about this recipe is that it no more difficult or time-consuming than any of the other methods. And how good do they taste? Let’s just say I made a big batch of them when I was at my daughter’s house recently, and her husband, who is rather suspicious of vegetables, although he eats some just to show willing, took some the next day to work. He was talking to my daughter as he ate and stopped to note “these are so good!”
As with most good things, you need some bacon. The really delicious thick-cut maple bacon from Costco is great, but really most any bacon is adequate. And I have modified my niece’s original method to include onions, because why not? And for Thanksgiving I’m going to get even fancier and use some shallots instead of ordinary onions.
So you take enough bacon to have an assertive presence in the dish. As to how much bacon that is, I can’t tell you because I don’t know how many Brussels sprouts you have. I would probably use three or four thick-cut rashers for 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of veg. But that’s up to you. Dice it up. Cutting the bacon in half longways and slicing it across is probably diced enough.
Throw the bacon into a pan with a tight-fitting lid. You’re better off with a deep skillet or some such than with a saucepan, unless you are only making a small amount. And there’s no point in making a small amount, because as you can tell they are also excellent as leftovers. You want your Brussels sprouts to have room to breathe.
Sauté the bacon over medium heat—you want to render out a good bit of the fat without the bacon getting burned. When it is looking fairly well rendered throw in your allium of choice—chopped onion, sliced leeks, diced shallots, or, I suppose, just garlic. Obviously use a good bit less of the latter… Stir said allium around until it is wilted a bit, which will take longer for the onions or leeks.
Then toss in your Brussels sprouts, which you have previously cut in half longways (for small ones) or quartered (for the ones which are starting to look rather more like small cabbages.) Stir them in with everything else for a minute or two, add about 1/4 cup of water, and put the lid on. Reduce the heat to rather low. Check them every few minutes to make sure there’s still a bit of water in the pan, and add some if not. Give them a good stir while you’re at it. Cook until they are done. You are the best judge as to how cooked you like your Brussels sprouts, but I prefer them past the bright green stage, because at that point they aren’t that far beyond raw and are pretty hard to chew, but definitely before the “starting to get a grayish tinge around the edges” stage. That’s when you get the sulfur whiffs from the pit. It’s fairly difficult to get to this stage, though, without using the traditional British cooking method of lots of water and lots of time. Good for sous-vide meat cooking, not good for vegetables.
If you are going to have to hold them a while after they are done, take them off just beyond the bright green stage, stick them out of the way somewhere, and then check them close to serving time. If need be you can add a bit more water and cook them another few minutes. You definitely want all the water cooked off—in fact, it’s best if you continue to stir them over the flame for a minute or two after all the water is gone, because they caramelize just a bit, which makes them even nicer.
Taste for salt. Depending on the saltiness of your bacon and the ratio of vegetable to pig, you might need a bit of salt. Add pepper or not as you like. These really don’t need much help, though. They are pretty delicious. And you can even serve them more or less at room temperature (although don’t let them sit around for hours beforehand, for all the usual health department sorts of reasons.) Enjoy! And let’s hope they help the Steelers defeat the Colts later that evening. Hey, it can’t hurt, anyhow…
“But what about tomorrow’s game?” you may be saying. I don’t know about you all, but I think I’m going to be too nervous to eat anything before the game. And depending on the results, I may be too depressed to eat. Tomorrow is not a day for planning food…