In 2015 and 2016, my two great friends with whom I had served in Viet Nam back in the late 1960’s and I met up for one of our annual get-togethers – this time in California – and a rarity – at the same location two years in a row, where we had the pleasure of some much needed R&R at the Ice Man’s brother’s Beach House at Cayucos by-the-Sea. The three of us LOVE great food, and so it was common for us to travel just South to Morro Bay – usually for breakfast – but sometimes dinner. And then on to one of my favorite places – The Grill Haus in San Luis Opisbo, where I always found the food, the atmosphere and the staff to be a wonder. (Hmmmmm – I wonder what ever happened to… never-mind.)
It was at the Grill Haus that I discovered one of the most amazing dishes (on the plate) that I had ever been privileged to savor – and a variation of that recipe I share with you now. Is it the healthist meal you might ever eat? Probably not – but once in awhile… just once in awhile my friends. As my Great-Grandmother’s would say, “All things in moderation.” ~ Ed.
This amazingly easy, 5-ingredient recipe makes traditionally bitter brussels sprouts sweet and crazy delicious thanks to roasting in a cast-iron skillet to create a caramelized bite of baby cabbage and salty pancetta for a favorite simple side dish any time of the year.
Whether you call them correctly with the plural Brussels sprouts, or leave the S off the end of this cruciferous veg aka brussel sprouts, everyone can agree that these green baby cabbages are at their best when roasted in a skillet with crispy bacon bites drizzled with a maple-sweetened vinegar tang. Even a newly-converted-brussel(s) sprout lover, like me.
When I was a kid I pretty much loved everything my mom made for dinner and was just about always the first one finished. But when she served the one or two things I really didn’t care for, (“Awwwww…Brussels sprouts and liver????”) I had two secret tricks that made it so it appeared I was eating, but really, I wasn’t. First I’d take a gratuitous bite or two, then another combined with a fake cough straight into my napkin with whatever was in my mouth, that was quickly hid under the table and fed to the dog, or as I excused myself to go to the restroom and dumped into the toilet later.
I can’t believe my mom didn’t realize the only times I EVER had to go to the bathroom during dinner was when we had Brussels sprouts and liver.
But thankfully, times change, and so do our palettes. At least half the time. I’m still not a fan of liver, but you can now count me as one of the lovers of Brussels. And even the singular brussel sprouts too, because of easy, 5-ingredient recipes like this.
How to Cook Brussels Sprouts
Back in the day, the only way I’d had Brussels sprouts was boiled with a bit of melted butter then drizzled with vinegar to cut their bitter bite. Sometimes it worked, but more often it didn’t. More recently, Brussels sprouts have been given the “hipness” blessing and are represented on chef’s menus just about as commonly as potatoes.
The beauty of this recipe and why I now actually like eating Brussels sprouts, is thanks to a crispy but caramelized sweetness that occurs when they’re roasted. Typically this happens in the oven on a sheet tray, but when mega cooking days like Thanksgiving take up all that precious oven space thanks to the main event of roasted turkey, stuffing, and homemade rolls, the cast-iron skillet is where I put these babies to work. Plus, this recipe is totally easy and quick to make.
First, I start off with cooking salty-cured pancetta to add built-in flavor to my cast-iron skillet. Pancetta is an Italian bacon made of pork belly meat, that is salt cured and very similar to the flavor of bacon. I buy it in one 1/2 pound chunk at my local deli counter then dice it into smaller pieces myself. You could also use regular bacon if you’d prefer, just choose a really good quality brand or pick it up directly from the meat counter itself. The lesser brands of bacon turn out all fat and end up becoming a grease bomb without much flavor. Because pancetta is leaner than bacon, you’ll need to cook it in a bit of olive oil as well. (Editor’s NOTE: The bacon was not a part of the Grill Haus recipe in San Luis Opisbo)
Next, remove the pancetta from the skillet and drain it on a plate topped with a paper towel. Then, add the halved, fresh Brussels sprouts to the skillet. And that’s when things really get cooking.
How to Make Brussels Sprouts Crispy and Caramelized
The key to getting these sprouts crispy is to let them cook undisturbed in the heavy-bottomed cast iron skillet cut side down so the caramelization process can begin. All vegetables become sweeter with that continued exposure to higher heat, releasing the sugars within.
There’s no need to cook the sprouts before adding them to the pan. They become tender and delicious as they cook all the way through. Simply cover with a lid, and let them do their thing.
Dressing these sprouts couldn’t be easier. Simply mix a bit olive oil and white balsamic vinegar with a maple syrup for a bit of sweetness and add at the end. The dressing is absorbed right into the sprouts and mellows their bitterness with every sweetened, crunchy bite.
How to Shop for Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts can be found in the produce aisle just about any month of the year, but November and December are when they really hit their seasonal stride.
When choosing your little bundles of cabbages, choose small to medium sized cabbage sprouts with leaves that are compact and tight, and bright green in color. Like many vegetables the smaller sized sprouts will be sweeter than the larger, more cabbage-tasting size.
Written by the Dishwasher and published by Foodie Crush. ~ November 6, 2017
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