Simple Pleasures.

Simple Pleasures.
Irish soda bread on its way up North with Noah.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Totally Bitchin' Brussels Sprouts

I'll put it right out there: THESE BRUSSELS SPROUTS ARE BETTER THAN SEX. And my love life is just peachy, thanks. So that should give you a good idea of how freaking wonderful this recipe is.

I didn't merely stumble upon this Holy Grail of sprouts preparation. My brussels sprouts odyssey spanned years. All because I simply refused to accept the fact that I, a person who adores cabbage and its many cruciferous cousins, just didn't like the little orbs. They looked so cute in their cardboard tubs at the supermarket. I knew they were nice and healthy. They looked just like tiny green cabbages, the larger version of which I adore. But the few times I'd made brussels sprouts or ordered them out, the tastebuds take-home was blecchh. Bitter and mushy.

Not one to surrender to a vegetable, I started recipe hunting and menu scouring in earnest about two years ago. This just so happened to be around the time that the foody world in general launched into its love affair with brussels sprouts. Suddenly, there were tons of recipes out there (still are) and sprouts were showing up on every chichi menu in town. Paul, the boys, and I discovered the insane, butter-bathed beauties served at Alta in the Village. Friends raved about favorite recipes that were flavored with pancetta or bacon. But let's be honest: You can put pancetta on a Scrunge and it will taste good. As far as I'm concerned, pork products on vegetables is cheating. And drowning them in butter or deep frying them, to some extent, is a bit shady, too.

Pancetta aside, I did begin to make some headway on the home front. I began roasting my sprouts with Seasonello and olive oil until they were nutty brown. I tossed in a little grainy mustard for a change of pace. Over time, brussels sprouts began appearing on my kitchen rotation about once every two weeks--partially thanks to the huge bins of them  beckoning to me at Fairway.

It was a Wednesday, right after New Years that I finally hit pay dirt. I was checking out,  and came upon (I get chills just thinking about it) the golden recipe for Momofuku's Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Fish Sauce Vinaigrette. I made it that night with a 1 1/2 pounds of Brussels sprouts and we quickly devoured them. The fact that Noah and Ben --two teenage boys and tepid vegetable likers at that--nearly came to blows over the last three orbs should give you an idea of how good they were. I made them again three days later, again soon after that, and have had to restrain myself from making them every freaking night since I first tasted these babies. The final proof that this is a great recipe: I served 5 POUNDS of these brussels sprouts to a dinner consisting of 6 innocent adults the other night and only three measly sprouts remained at the end of the meal. (I snarfed them down while mopping off the counter.) That's nearly a pound of brussels sprouts per person. Amazing,.... but not something I'd necessarily recommend unless you want to sleep in separate bedrooms for the night. I need not go into the details as to why.
Oh, and just in case you're sitting here saying, "Ew, fish sauce!" Calm down. Fish sauce doesn't taste fishy. It's in just about every Thai or Vietnamese dish you eat. It's the Asian equivalent of anchovies. And Italians put those BEEPs in everything. I do, too, and my kids haven't a clue. We're talking umami here. Not fishy. So just go for it. You can get fish sauce at any Asian market--ask the store clerk to suggest a good brand. You don't want to go with cheap, artificially flavored stuff. One more thing: On a few occasions, I've had leftover vinaigrette and Brussels sprouts on hand, but no mint or cilantro. Made them anyway, without the fancy herbs. Not quite as great, but totally bitchin' anyway.

So here's the recipe, slightly adapted. And now that I'm at the end of this column and hope I've sold you, I'll just say. Well. They're almost as good as sex.

Here goes:

2 Tablespoons very thinly sliced cilantro stems (or to taste)
3 Tablespoons chopped mint (or to taste)
Neutral oil, like grapeseed, canola, or vegetable (not olive)
2-3 pounds brussels sprouts (smaller are better) (you will have more vinaigrette than you need, so feel free to buy more sprouts. Just remember what I told you about side effects)

For vinaigrette:
1/2 cup fish sauce (adjust to taste - some brands are saltier than others)
1/4 cup water
2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup sugar
1 garlic clove
1-3 bird's eye chilis (I use a couple of drops of hot chili oil instead. I'm sure you can use red pepper flakes or skip all together.)

For vinaigrette, combine all ingredients in a jar. Taste. If too salty, add more water and/or lime juice. This recipe will make more vinaigrette than you need. It will keep for a week or more in the fridge.

For the Brussels Sprouts: 
Preheat oven to 400. Trim sprouts and slice in half, from top to bottom, so you are cutting through the stem end.  Throw onto a large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with enough neutral oil to coat (about 1 Tbsp. per pound) Arrange sprouts so they are all nestled cozily, cut face down. Roast in oven, checking for browning ever 10-15 minutes, tossing them around gently once or twice with a spatula only after they start to brown nicely. The sprouts are ready when they are tender but not soft, with a nice, dark brown color in various places. When ready to serve, transfer sprouts to a serving bowl (or just leave them on the baking sheet if you're lazy like me.) Pour on a generous amount of dressing (I never use all of it on one recipe unless I'm making, um, a ton). Throw on the chopped mint and cilantro. Toss gently one or two times to coat. Eat hot or at room temp.  Send me a thank you email after you're done doing the dishes.