Nature has an eccentric sense of humor. For all of the regal beauty it bestows on so many fruits and vegetables, there are some that seem to have gotten short shrift.
The Brussels sprout is just such a case, appearing as if it’s nothing but a diminutive counterpart to the cabbage in a type of Vaudevillian vegetable sight gag. But peel away those tiny green leaves and you find an ingredient packed full of potential in flavor and healthy properties that belie its minuscule nature.
The Brussels sprout does share a number of traits with its larger friend the cabbage as they both are members of the Brassica family of cruciferous vegetables, the cancer fighting, nutrient and fiber dense family that includes fellow green chums like broccoli, kale, collards and all manner of cabbages.
Sadly, the Brussels sprout has suffered from the same culinary neglect as its green brethren, overlooked and overcooked, forced into side dishes and foisted on the crying palates of children and finicky eaters alike. Like a character in a 90’s teen comedy, the Brussels sprout just needs a bit of a makeover and a set of new clothes to go from class outcast to prom queen.
In the case of the Brussels sprout, casting away its drab clothing means getting rid of the frozen, boiled and buttered — if you were lucky — way they’ve been served by unimaginative cooks and aging grandparents. Some of this has been due to frozen sprouts being one of the only forms available, though thankfully this is no longer the case.
A trip to the farmers market this time of year will no doubt yield plenty of Brussels sprouts, sometimes even sold on the stalk the sprouts grow on, like small golf balls clumping on a stick. This may seem intimidating at first if you’ve never encountered one, but fear not, removing the sprout is a simple as plucking a grape off a vine.
One of the best parts of the growing availability of fresh Brussels sprouts is the variety of cooking methods a fresh, vibrant green sprout offers the cook. It can be shaved and eaten raw in a salad. You can steam them whole and toss in vinaigrette or a knob of good butter.
Most of the things you can or would want to do with a cabbage, you can do with a sprout, though I actually find the tiny cabbage cousin offers a more unique way to enjoy both the harder stem and increasingly tender leaves all in a single bite.
This recipe is one that is meant to incorporate all aspects of the sprout and elevate it with the addition of a few simple ingredients and a basic cooking method. Three words alone should calm any apprehension you might have at the delectable possibilities of these Brussels sprouts: braised with bourbon and bacon. The three B’s of deliciousness that symbolize all that is wondrous and right in American cooking.
The bourbon serves the purpose of adding a touch of moisture, along with stock or water, to help tenderize as they cook. The bacon works on multiple levels to use its smoky, porky fat to cook and caramelize the sprouts, thus adding layers of flavor and texture to the exposed flesh of the sprout. And I don’t really need to tell you that a few lardons of bacon will add meaty taste and texture to make just about any vegetable a star.
Try this dish and method as you assemble your roster for the Thanksgiving table, I think you will find everyone reaching for seconds and thirds. Don’t worry, it works just as well on a weeknight as it does on holidays. Just make sure to cook enough, because bourbon and bacon braised Brussels sprouts is as tasty to eat as it is to say.Bourbon and Bacon Braised Brussels Sprouts Makes 4 servings 2 strips, thick cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch lardons 1 clove garlic, smashed 1 pound fresh Brussels Sprouts, halved 1/4 cup bourbon (take your pick, I like Four Roses for cooking) 1/2 cup chicken stock or water 1/4 teaspoon sea salt 4 grinds, black pepper
In a large sauté pan, render the bacon over low heat until it becomes crisp and releases its fat. Remove and reserve the lardons of bacon and turn heat to medium. Once pan is hot enough, add garlic and Brussels sprouts, cut side down to pan and let cook for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes, until the surface begins to caramelize. Working quickly and safely standing a step back, add the bourbon and let cook 30 seconds, then add stock or water. The idea is to have a thin layer of liquid at the bottom of the pan, so add a splash more water if your pan is large. Cook until liquid is mostly evaporated, another 2-3 minutes. When liquid is almost gone, add bacon back in and toss sprouts to coat everything. Season with salt and pepper. Enjoy.
Tyler Fox, personal chef/event caterer who emphasizes ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking philosophy as well as vegan and local/farm to table foods.