I thought I hated Brussels sprouts. Possibly because the only ones that I had been served had been taken from the freezer and thrown directly into a pot of boiling water, where they proceeded to become an unappealing glob of wilted leaves that smelled worse than any cooked cabbage that I had ever encountered, and which were then ruinously over-salted in an attempt to make them palatable. Imagine my surprise when, less than two years ago, I was served a vegetable dish that looked like Brussels sprouts, but had a wonderful crisp texture and were covered in a sauce made of red wine vinaigrette which had reduced and cooked into the sprouts in the most wonderful way. I was shocked at how delicious they were, and I was hooked.
This weekend I was on a Brussels sprouts kick, something that would have been unimaginable two years ago. On Friday night I tried the ‘Col de bruselas estilo San Quintín’ at Oyamel (a Mexican tapas restaurant in DC), which are pan-fried Brussels sprouts in a chile sauce, dressed with pumpkin seeds, peanuts and lime. They lived up to the hype that I had heard about them. Delicious! In fact, I enjoyed them so much that instead of waiting a few days between Brussels sprouts encounters, I decided to use up the bag that was in my refrigerator the very next day. I had intended to try my hand at a vinaigrette-based sprouts dish ever since my first encounter with them, but had never worked up the energy to fiddle with it. What better opportunity than while inspired by the delicious sprouts the night before?
The question about how to recreate those delicious Brussels sprouts hadn’t been erased though. I decided to start with a few of my favorite things, balsamic vinegar, bacon, and onion. None of which were in the dish that I was trying to replicate. Oops. It worked though! A little trial and error, and tasting as I went, and I ended up with a dish that was very little like what I was trying to produce, but was delightful none the less. Balsamic and bacon… how could it not be delicious?
One tip as we get started… be patient. Learn from my mistakes (even if it was still tasty), because I was impatient and didn’t give the sprouts enough time to brown and get crispy in the second step, which would have given them extra pizzazz. But if you can’t, I understand. Clearly. Just go for it, they’ll still taste great.
Prepping fresh Brussels sprouts is easy. Wash them off, but make sure they are thoroughly dried before you cook them. Cut off a little bit of the stem from each sprout, then cut them in half. Take off a leaf or two if the outer ones look dirty or banged up. Done!
Start by frying the bacon. Do this first so that the bacon will already be good and crispy when you add it to the pan later, and so that when you’re crisping your sprouts they can cook in the bacon grease and pick up the extra flavor. It’s totally worth it. Also if you have the chance use peppercorn bacon for this because the extra flavor from the cracked peppercorns is fabulous. Not to mention the fact that the leftover bacon makes a delicious B.A.L.T. (bacon avocado lettuce tomato) sandwich.
Ok, moving on. Cut the bacon into strips (I used kitchen shears because it’s easiest, just be sure to wash them really well afterwards or they will be greasy forever) and put them into a cast iron pan or large skillet. Cook them until they are crisp and then remove them to a plate covered with paper towel and set aside. DO NOT DRAIN THE GREASE!
Now, take the sprouts and toss them into that same pan. But don’t actually toss them, because there’s hot bacon grease in there. Instead stand back and carefully pour them. Good. Toss in a good sprinkling of salt. Now here’s where you have to be patient. Let them brown on both sides before you add in the onions. Clearly I stopped short of brown on both sides (see photo). But you should at least try. If you feel like the pan is getting too dry supplement the grease with olive oil. I didn’t need to, but I had it out just in case because burnt sprouts are no good. Crisp without burning, that’s what we’re going for. OK, now add the onion and let them cook until they start to turn translucent. Again: watch the grease level and add olive oil if they start to stick.
Now it’s time to season the sprouts. Add in the balsamic vinegar. I didn’t measure when I added mine, but it was roughly 1/3 cup. Enough balsamic to cover the bottom of the pan even after you’ve tossed all of the sprouts around in it. Also add the Dijon mustard. I used 1 1/2 tablespoons to start, but had to add more, so start with 1 3/4 tablespoons and add more if you need to. Add 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, and some salt and pepper. Stir it all up and let it cook for couple of minutes. When the sprouts are almost done cooking (you should be able to pierce them with a knife) add the bacon back to the pan.
Stir to combine and let it cook for another minute. The bacon will soften slightly and absorb some of the balsamic flavor. Taste to make sure it doesn’t need extra salt, pepper, garlic or mustard. If not, then it’s ready to be eaten! These would make a great side dish for steaks, pork chops, or a light pasta dish. Enjoy!Balsamic Brussels Sprouts
1 bag fresh (not frozen) Brussels Sprouts
4 slices Cracked Peppercorn Bacon (or plain bacon)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/3 – 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 3/4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper
olive oil to supplement bacon grease (if needed)
1. Prep Brussels sprouts: Rinse and dry thoroughly. Trim stems, slice in half. Set aside.
2. Cut bacon into slices with kitchen shears or knife. Cook in skillet (choose one large enough to hold all the Brussels sprouts) over medium heat until crisp. Remove from pan to paper towel lined plate, do NOT drain grease.
3. Add Brussels sprouts to pan carefully, watch out for grease splatters. Add salt (roughly 1/2 tablespoon). Allow sprouts to brown on both sides, adding oil if needed. When browned, add onions and cook until they start to become translucent.
4. When onions have had time to cook (3-5 minutes), add balsamic vinegar, mustard and garlic powder to pan. Make sure that the balsamic covers the bottom of the pan after the sprouts are all covered, it will form the sauce. Add a little salt and pepper (more can be added at the end). Let cook until the balsamic reduces and the sprouts can be pierced with a knife.
5. Add bacon back into pan. Let cook for one minute more. Make sure sprouts are fully cooked and spices are correctly adjusted. Remove from heat and serve.