Bringing home the…(braised Brussels sprouts with bacon)

January 7, 2010 § 4 Comments

Wow.  Can you believe I made it through fall and this far into winter without writing about Brussels sprouts?!  I know.  I’m flabbergasted too.  Embarrassed.  Appalled even.  It’s like I’ve been living a lie, eating all these succulent little Brussels sprouts all these months and never once telling you about them.  (To make it up to you, I’ll tell you briefly that usually I just roast them – it’s so easy it takes barely a sentence to explain: wash, remove stems, toss with olive oil and salt, and throw into the oven at 400 for about 30 minutes, enjoy.  Hmm, maybe I should just stop the post there.)

Anyway, now here I go, getting ready to wax eloquent about Brussels sprouts and already I can feel myself being diverted onto another thought train.  Today, cooking Brussels sprouts will convey so much more than just how to cook Brussels sprouts.  Today, they are the bearer of another message.  They are fulfilling their greater purpose of giving me an excuse to talk about the wonder that is: bacon.

My feelings about bacon border on X-rated.  It’s so good.  I love it.  But only, really, when it’s used incorporated into dishes.  Oddly, I don’t much like it by itself.  But at any rate, in the world of cooking, almost anything is made just that much tastier by adding some chopped bacon bits (not the weird packaged stuff, but actual bacon you’ve cooked yourself) or by frying it in a titch of leftover bacon grease.  You remember when you were a kid and you would say something like “I love (insert preferred food here, usually ice cream or ketchup) so much, I would eat it on anything,” and then your obnoxious little brother would say, “oh yeah, what about, (insert something with which it would taste nasty, for example liver),” and you would feel thwarted?  Well I think bacon might actually win in that game.  I can imagine it tasting good with everything from chocolate (I’ve tried it), to pickles, to ice cream, to liver.  Plus, since it has a very strong flavor, you only need a couple of pieces to elevate the flavor oomph of an entire meal (kind of like how you only need to add a little fresh Parmesan for a lot of flavor).  And only a little bit of bacon isn’t so bad for you.  (On the other hand, one of my best friends is in a bacon appreciation club at which she once tried deep fried bacon macaroni and cheese balls.  My arteries clogged instantly upon hearing this.  And, yes, the little devil on my shoulder went, “yummy!!”)

When cooking with bacon, fry the pieces of bacon first thing and then set them on a plate with a paper towel or a piece of brown paper bag to soak up the drippings.  It can be tricky to cook bacon the right amount – and “the right amount” differs from person to person, since some like barely crisped while others like super crunchy – but be forewarned that bacon often looks slightly less done in the pan than it actually is.  Also, it’s best to use medium to low heat, rather than to be impatient like I am and fry bacon super hot, creating a danger zone of splattering, scalding hot grease and sometimes winding up with borderline charred pig sticks instead of bacon.  Once they are ready, chop the bacon strips and add them as the last stage of whatever you’re cooking, so they don’t get soggy.  After frying the bacon, pour off some of the fat into a cup, but please, please, save at least some of it to fry your other ingredients in, whether this is lightly steamed chopped vegetables, or another meat (like chicken breast or scallops), or eggs, or roasted vegetables, or an onion to start a soup, or what have you.

I especially like to toss bits of bacon in with oven roasted root vegetables, potato salad, or creamy pasta dishes.  But, here I added them to Brussels sprouts that I sautéed, to brown them with bacon flavor, and then lightly cooked in some broth (braised) to finish and make them more tender.  And of course, they’re topped with bacon.

Braised Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

  • 3-4 pieces of bacon
  • Several cups of Brussels sprouts
  • About 1/3-1/2 cup chicken broth or vegetable broth (you could use water, but it wouldn’t have quite as much flavor.  You could also add a couple Tbs. of wine or sherry while cooking, which will deepen the flavor even more.)
  • Salt to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped, toasted nuts of your choice (optional – toast the nuts in the oven at 350 for under 10 minutes, until they start to smell really fragrant.  Be careful not to let them burn.)
  1. Wash the Brussels sprouts, cut off the stemmy bottoms of them, and slice them into thin slices (this part takes a while because there are a lot of little individual sprouts, but it’s so worth it). 
  2. Fry the bacon on medium heat in a frying pan until crispy, turning to make sure both sides get cooked.  Remove the bacon pieces and put on a plate with a paper towel, piece of brown paper bag, or something to soak up some of the grease drippings from the bacon.  Keep the bacon fat in the pan and add the sliced Brussels sprouts.  Stir to coat with the bacon grease and allow to sautee for about 5-10 minutes (5 if you like them crunchier, 10 if you like them softer). 
  3. Add the broth and cook for another 5 or so minutes, until the sprouts are just tender.  Add salt to taste (this dish tends not to need so much because the bacon and broth are salty, but I still add a bit, because I like the way the salt brings out some hidden green sweetness in the Brussels sprouts).  
  4. While the veg is cooking, chop or tear the bacon into small pieces.  Just before serving, stir the bacon bits into the sprouts.  Sprinkle with toasted nuts, if desired.  Serve as a side dish.  Or, you could try tossing it with cooked pasta and a couple of Tbs. heavy cream (or creme fraiche/ sour cream), and some grated parmesan for a pastainverno (yes, I totally used an online translator to figure out how to say winter in Italian).
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