Let me just say, brussels sprouts are my favorite vegetable, but I feel bad for them. The proverbial last kid picked for dodgeball, they're unfairly saddled with a bad rap. They're the vegetable that kids love to hate. But for all you haters out there, read on, because I'm going to make you love brussels sprouts.
It's my theory that about 90% of people who hate brussels sprouts have never had them prepared properly. It's crucial to cook them to just the right point of doneness, because underdone they are tough and unpleasantly crunchy, and overdone, they're worse. When cooked past their peak, sprouts are mushy and emit sulfur, which gives them a bitter taste and an awful smell. A lot of complaints about brussels sprouts stem from those who have only experienced the bitter mush that results when sprouts are cooked to death. But I guarantee this recipe will convert even the most avowed brussels sprout haters.
First off, start with good sprouts. Look for ones that are small, tightly closed, fresh and green. Avoid loose sprouts with any yellowing. Next comes proper cooking. For the best-tasting brussels sprouts, you need some color. The ideal golden brown shade can either be achieved by roasting sprouts in the oven at around 400 °F or caramelizing them in a stove-top pan. I prefer the latter. The caramelization produces amazingly crispy sprouts with a nutty flavor. These alone are delicious, but add some bacon breadcrumbs and it's magic.
I was inspired to make bacon breadcrumbs after watching an episode of Iron Chef, in which Marc Forgione coats tilapia in bacon breadcrumbs to make a 'grown-up' version of fish sticks. I took my bacon breadcrumbs in a different different direction, adding walnuts, Parmesan and a variety of spices to create a super savory topping that pairs well with the caramelized brussels sprouts. But let's be honest, what wouldn't taste good with bacon breadcrumbs? Make sure and use the finely grated Parmesan, not shaved or shredded. If you want to use nicer cheese, buy some Parmiggiano Reggiano and grate it by hand. Only finely grated Parmesan produces the right texture and saltiness.
Caramelized Brussel Sprouts with Bacon Breadcrumbs
1 lb. brussel sprouts, washed and trimmed
2 tbsp high quality olive oil
3-4 pieces of bacon
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
5 tbsp. grated Parmesan
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
Pinch of ground mustard
Dash of Tabasco
Cook bacon until done, but not too crispy. Set aside on paper towels or newspaper to drain grease.
Steam brussel sprouts in a large pot of boiling water until just tender, 6-7 minutes. Transfer to a colander and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
Roughly chop bacon and place in a food processor with the rest of the ingredients for the breadcrumbs. Pulse until breadcrumbs are coarse, with no large chunks of bacon or walnuts remaining. Note: this will make a ton of breadcrumbs, so you will definitely have leftovers.
To finish cooking brussel sprouts, heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan until shimmering. Cut each sprout in half and place, cut side down in the oil, working in batches if necessary. Allow to cook until nicely browned, about 5 minutes. Resist the temptation to check every them few seconds. The sprouts need to sit untouched in the hot oil to get some good caramelization going. Using tongs, flip each sprout and cook until the other side is brown, another 5-6 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and season generously with salt.
|The nice even browning is a result of letting the sprouts caramelize untouched|
After the sprouts have cooled slightly, sprinkle with 1/3-1/2 cup of the bacon breadcrumbs, depending on your taste. Serve warm. To store, refrigerate in an airtight container. Reheat gently in the oven or in the microwave before serving.