To all of you who think you hate Brussels sprouts, you’re wrong. Well, most of you are anyway. And more than ever, chefs these days are out to prove it. In fact, Brussels sprouts have starred as delicious small plates in two recent meals we’ve had.
Quick cooking is part of what makes them so good. Pan frying until they’re just caramelized or even deep frying, instead of boiling them into the mushy, sulfur-smelling mess you learned to hate. So is pairing them with ingredients that make the most of Brussels sprouts’ pleasantly bitter natural flavor.
At Revolution Grille in Toledo, Ohio, Chef/Proprietor Rob Campbell serves what he calls Crispy Fried Brussels Sprouts. For this so-called small bites dish (all of the small plates we ordered were huge by Chicago standards), the sprouts were flash-fried in the deep frier (not breaded) and served with pine nuts, Pecorino Romano, pea tendrils and white truffle-maple mustard. We had stopped in Toledo after a deliciously food-filled visit to Columbus, and these sprouts ranked among the best things we ate on the entire trip.
A couple of weekends ago, an antiquing day trip took us to La Grange, Illinois, where we discovered Wild Monk, a relaxed gastro pub on a charming street of shops and restaurants. Much of the inventive, beer-friendly menu is the work of chef Francisco Velasquez. Credit for the caramelized Brussels sprouts with bacon jam, lemon and sea salt, however, goes to former executive chef Riley Huddleston. We hit the antique mall in La Grange a few times a year. Now we know where we’ll be eating when we do.
For this recipe, I borrowed techniques and ingredients from both chefs above—and I threw in some of my own. I sautéed the Brussels sprouts quickly, getting a nice caramelized char on them and adding a little garlic at the end of the sautéing. Then I tossed them with some bacon and chopped walnuts and gave everything a maple-mustard glaze. Finally, I topped it all with freshly grated Pecorino Romano. It was delicious, if I say so myself—something even most Brussels sprouts haters would probably like.
Mustard-Maple Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
Serves 2 to 4 as a side/starter (see Kitchen Notes)
1/4 cup shelled walnut halves or pieces
1/2 Brussels sprouts (15 to 20)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1-1/2 teaspoons maple syrup
canola or olive oil
2 strips bacon
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
Place walnuts in a cold nonstick skillet. Toast over a medium flame, stirring occasionally, until just golden brown and fragrant. Be careful not to burn. Transfer to a small plate. When cool enough to handle, break into smallish pieces.
Rinse Brussels sprouts, dry with a paper towel. Trim the bases and halve Brussels sprouts lengthwise, peeling away any loose leaves. Set aside. Whisk Dijon mustard and maple syrup together in a small bowl. Set aside.
Drizzle a little oil into a large nonstick skillet or sauté pan. Place bacon strips in pan and cook until crisp, turning frequently. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Drizzle a little more oil in the pan, enough to coat the bottom. Place Brussels sprouts cut side down in the pan and sauté until caramelized, about 2 minutes (check the first ones you put in the pan a little before 2 minutes). Using a pair of wooden spoons or spatulas, turn and cook on rounded side for 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and a generous grind of pepper.
Push sprouts aside and add garlic and walnuts to pan. Cook until garlic is just fragrant, about 45 seconds. Turn off heat and toss to combine. Crumble bacon over pan. Drizzle mustard-maple syrup mixture over pan and toss to coat everything. Transfer Brussels sprouts to a serving bowl and top with grated Pecorino Romano. Serve.
“Can I double this?” Sure, but you’ll probably need two pans to have room to cook the sprouts. And they cook up quickly, so getting them all turned and properly caramelized without burning them could be a challenge. A better bet might be to cook the sprouts in batches, transferring the first batch to a warmed bowl and tenting it with foil. Then you could combine them with the second batch as they finish cooking, adding the doubled walnuts, bacon and glaze at the end.