"No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize." - Julia Child

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The lowly sprout, elevated to the greatest heights

Brussels sprouts! They're like tiny cabbages! They're like little gems of goodness! They are underappreciated and sometimes hated, often wrongfully so, because people cook the living bejeesus out of them and they end up tasting sulfurically of dirty socks!

I personally LOVE Brussels sprouts, and am fortunate to have a partner who also loves them, but I was woefully underfed them growing up, mostly because my nutty father likes to have everything cooked to within a mushy inch of its LIFE. (Either that, or he likes it raw. Raw or mushified--for him there's no in-between.) Anyway, I fully embrace sprouts and love to cook them. I've learned that the proper way to cook them is to take care not to OVER-cook them. As long as you keep an eye on them and remove them from whatever heat source you've got them over or in just after they become fork-tender with a nice bit of give, you won't have mushy, smelly, travesty-of-a-sprout sprouts.

A few years ago, my friend Frank made some sprouts with bacon (NUM) and apple cider vinegar. OMG HEAVEN. It was the perfect combo. So recently, when we had some sprouts, leftover bacon from a soup we'd made, and some spiced apple cider, I decided to try for my own version of Frank's magnificent dish.

Take about a pound of sprouts, clean them, remove the stems, and halve them if you wish. I like cutting them in half lengthwise because I feel like they cook faster and you can thus remove them from the heat more quickly. This also makes them easier to eat.

Put two or three thin-sliced strips of bacon in a pan and fry them up over medium heat until they're nice and crisp. Remove them from the pan and drain on a paper-toweled plate. Leave the lovely bacon fat in the pan and leave the heat on. Immediately dump in the sprouts and stir frequently, allowing them to quickly fry and heat up. Then add some apple cider to the pan and a few splashes of red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar and stir. The amount of cider you add is up to you, but I probably put in about 3/4 of a cup and just a splash of vinegar. Lower the heat and cover. Allow the sprouts to braise for a few minutes. I think I left mine in there for 7 or 8 minutes. Check the state of the sprouts with a fork and remove them when they're at your desired balance of tender and firm.

Remove the sprouts from the pan with a spoon--I stashed them in a small covered Corningware dish. Then add a bit more apple cider and another dash of vinegar to what's left in the pan and continue to cook on low, deglazing the pan. Scrape up all the lovely bits of fat that are stuck to the bottom of the pan. I cooked the liquid down until it was about half the amount it originally was, so it was slightly thickened, then I spooned it over the sprouts. I crumbled the bacon on top.

PERFECTION. DELICIOUSNESS. OMG-NESS. It was so good! The sweetness of the cider, the gentle tang of the vinegar cutting through the appleyness, the crisp bacon, the perfectly cooked sprouts. It was a good time. Of course, you can veg this one up by using butter or olive oil instead of bacon fat, but if you eat meat, trust me: Brussels sprouts and bacon are one of those deliciously satisfying combinations you don't want to miss.

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