[58] Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

How to Cook Everything, Revised Edition by Mark Bittman

Until a few days ago, I’d never eaten brussels sprouts. If I recall correctly, this is because my mother loathes them. Like most people, as a child/teen, I mostly ate what my parents fed me. Especially when it came to vegetables, because I certainly wasn’t putting vegetables in my mouth of my own accord! (I wish now that hadn’t been true then. It might’ve made doing so now easier. I am getting better. Evidence? You’re reading it.)

Thus, I really hate peas, and all things that taste like peas, to this day. Peas being basically the only vegetable my father would eat (at least in any quantity). My mother hates peas, but served a ton of them anyway. I just don’t get why she’d do that to us (us being her, my sister and me). Poor Bill. Now he only gets peas if we go out to eat, and he kinda likes ’em.

Also thus, I’ve never before had brussels sprouts. But, I like food (more and more kinds everyday; but not peas), and they’re in season, and they’re kind of pretty. Plus, they have SUCH a reputation! Honestly, I’m not particularly a contrarian (though Bill is), but something about that reputation made me really curious. Probably it has its roots with that instinct that has so many of us saying, “Man, this smells awful! Here, smell it.”

So, we made brussels sprouts. With bacon. Because, really, why not give ourselves the best possible chance to like them?

h2. Ingredients

1 lb brussels sprouts
6 oz bacon, chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice

I tbsp chopped fresh thyme (Optional; We didn’t use it, as I’m afraid my thyme plant needs its greenery right now.)

1/4 c water (Not in the ingredients list in the cookbook. Grrr.)

h2. Instructions

Put the bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat; when it starts to sizzle reduce the heat to medium and cook until it’s crispy and you just want to say dinner’s already done, but you know 6 oz of bacon (pre-cooked weight) just won’t feed three people. At that point, sigh and resign yourself to completing the dish.

Luckily, in the time the bacon is cooking, you do brussels sprouts prep. Namely by trimming the tough edges off the bottom and either slicing the guys very thin or quartering them like I did. Once they’re prepped and the bacon’s done, toss them and the water in the pan, sprinkle with the salt and pepper, then cover and cook undisturbed (a.k.a. no stirring around in there) for about five minutes. You’re looking for tender brussels sprouts.

When the sprouts are tender, uncover and raise the heat back to medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all the water evaporates and the sprouts are all kinds of tender. Then stir in the vinegar and thyme (if you’re using it) and devour like the ravening wolf you will be, due to all that delicious bacon smell.

h2. Cooking and Consumption Notes

h3. Cooking

The hardest part of making this dish, for me, was getting the sprouts off their stalk. I got my sprouts from one of my favorite local farmers, and they came on this HUGE stalk (photos coming, promise!). Removing those things from the stalk was a surprising struggle! I had to exert a lot of force, in just the right spot, on each individual little cabbage head. My thumbs got tired1.

I used the smallest brussels sprouts I could pry off the stalk in this recipe. I had two reasons for going small on the sprouts. The smaller part of my logic is that they would cook faster, and so instead of trying to whip out the mandoline and slice them crazy thin (a Bittman suggestion, though he refrains from calling the thinness “crazy”), I could just quarter them. The second, and much more important, part was that I have heard and read repeatedly that smaller sprouts taste much better and have a lot less of the characteristic bitterness that so many people find off-putting. So, again going with my theory that I should give myself the best possible chance to like them, I went with the tiny/small/medium sprouts2.

The outer leaves tend to seem to want to fall off the sprouts, and this is truer as they get bigger. I just tossed everything in, and it all seemed to work just fine.

As for the bacon, I would say that I rarely cook it (for any purpose, but especially chopped bits like this) at medium-high. I like a lower and slower cook, personally, maybe around medium. It seems to help crisp the bacon better and render the bacon fat cleaner and more thoroughly. Obviously, this adds cooking time, potentially quite a bit, but I think it’s worth it. I bet if I didn’t have so much time to cook, I would not feel that way.

h3. Consumption

This was the vegetable dish I served with the “bean, potato and turnip gratin.”:http://metacookbook.com/archives/112-57-Bean-and-Potato-Gratin-with-Turnips.html Obviously, this is why our second bean meal wasn’t completely vegetarian.

Jessie claimed not to be a big fan of brussels sprouts when we told her what we were having for dinner.

Bill hadn’t had a lot of brussels sprouts before this meal, but was generally okay with them.

I was wary, in part because I know they’re Brassica sp. and those tend to be bitter, in part due to their reputation and in part because I really wanted to like them. Since I grew up without a fondness for vegetables, it’s always nice to have a new something to like.

And the verdict was that these were amazing. All three of us went back for seconds; I went back for thirds. The balsamic was a nice touch, the bacon flavoring was not overwhelming.

Indeed the sprouts really held their own against the bacon, which I wasn’t expecting. Bacon is such a powerful flavor that I was half expecting this to be practically a totally bacon-flavored dish; in effect something to hide the “brussels sprouts flavor”. Instead, it was just such a wonderful play of complex flavors. I really could have just eaten a huge dish of this for dinner.

In fact, I wonder (and wondered at the time) if everyone liked the gratin as much as they did because I paired it with such a stellar side.

The true evidence of how sensational I found these sprouts to be? I didn’t care when Bill stole bacon off my plate; my favorite part was, by far, the sprouts.

fn1. But not as tired as when I made the cranberry liqueur. More on that later, probably.

fn2. Even the farm worker at the farmers’ market said she likes them best medium or smaller.