The Recipe Book: Awesome Bacon-Bourbon Brussels Sprouts

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The Brussels Sprouts on their way to being cooked in a hundred-year-old cast-iron skillet.

Since people are starting to compile their Thanksgiving recipes, I figured I would share this one. Brussels Sprouts have always gotten a bad wrap. I do not know why. Yes, they are like little cabbages and they don’t smell too great when being steamed, but if cooked the right way, a whole world of flavor can be opened. I first got this idea while eating at a restaurant called Tre Amici in Long Branch a few years ago. They had a side dish on their menu called Pancetta Brussels Sprouts. They were heavenly, but way too salty and loaded with fat. I wanted to experiment and try something a little different. Forgive me for this recipe not being exact. When I cook, I take the “little bit of this, little bit of that” approach until it tastes right.

Start out with a bag of frozen Brussels Sprouts, which still retain a lot of their freshness (canned is a big no-no, but don’t be afraid to use frozen). Follow the directions on the bag and cook them while microwaving in the bag. Perhaps go a minute or two less than it says to make sure you do not over-cook them. Take four slices of bacon (or more, if you really like bacon) and chop them horizontally so you have little squares. Get your pan hot and ready (cast iron works really well for this dish) and heat up just a tiny bit of olive oil. Do not use extra virgin, just regular olive oil. Proceed to fry up your bacon until it gets crispy, then remove it and keep it in a dish on the side.

You will then add the cooked Brussels Sprouts to the bacon grease to finish them off and get them crispy as well. Season with a pinch of salt and a lot more black pepper—trust me on that one. If the bacon grease in the pan isn’t enough, you can add a little more oil or even butter. When the sprouts are starting to brown, add the bacon back as well as a two or three tablespoons of brown sugar. Enough so there’s a light sprinkle covering the whole pan. Stir to distribute. Once it starts to cake up, here comes the fun part: add bourbon! I go with something cheap like Heaven Hill for this because you don’t want to waste a good bourbon. I actually keep a bottle on-hand just for cooking. Drizzle in just enough to de-glaze the pan and cause the brown sugar to get all syrupy. Simmer for another minute or two to kill the alcohol-bite, and you are good to go. The sprouts will be wonderfully caramelized. This can be served as a side dish, or if you really want to, an appetizer with toothpicks. For something so simple, there is a wide contrast of flavors and textures. The sprouts are crisp on the outside, soft inside. The bacon is both crunchy and chewy from the addition of the brown sugar and bourbon. There’s sweet, salty, and savory. All of this can be done in less than 15-20 minutes.

An Italian spin can also be taken with this by using prosciutto instead of bacon. You just won’t need to cook it as long because the prosciutto will start to crisp up much quicker. You can actually go right ahead with the sprouts and meat at the same time. When I make it this way, I also like to use butter and oil. The flavors just work better with the mildness of the prosciutto. I like the bacon one much better, but it is nice to switch up every once in a while.

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