Char-Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Cauliflower with Bacon and Balsamic

#RecipeUpTop (details below):

  • 1 head of cauliflower;
  • 1lb of fresh brussels sprouts;
  • 4 rashers of bacon;
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar;
  • Salt and black pepper (to taste);

Method: Render the bacon in a large cast iron skillet, and remove. Split the sprouts in half, and break down the cauliflower into florets. Add to the bacon fat, stir thoroughly to coat, and move to a 450F oven for thirty (30) minutes, stirring once halfway through. Remove to stovetop, add balsamic, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

The Details

I hated brussels sprouts for most of my adult life. Mushy, smelly, bitter. I just didn’t get the point.

Then, one day in law school, a new “southern cooking” spot opened up near campus. They took over a building that seemed designed solely to bankrupt its tenants, and as a result, nothing lasted very long in that space.

I mention this only because I had a meal there shortly after they opened, and, presumably in the fluster and commotion of newfound operation, I wound up with a plate of sprouts before me.

I hadn’t ordered them. I didn’t want them. But, well, I’d had a beer or two and was hungry.

That plate made me a believer.

These sprouts were charred to a crispy, paper-flake and served with smoky bacon, and a tangy balsamic glaze. I was dumbfounded.

And almost before I could finish them, the restaurant was out of business and some sort of goofy upscale waffle spot was moving in.

From there, I took it up on myself to to learn the ways of the sprout, and to convert as many others as I could. A mission that continues to this day.

So, what’s the secret? Hot, dry heat, a good dose of bacon fat, and the sweet acid of balsamic to cut through it all. Oh, and the cauliflower? We’ll get to that. First, get yourself some fresh sprouts:

As a rule, I – to this day – will not cook frozen sprouts. While a lot of veggies are great frozen, something about the blanching and freezing process ruins everything that’s good about these, and produces that gloopy mush that ruined sprouts for so many people.

So, how do we deal with these? Cut off the root end:

At this point, a few outer leaves will probably fall off, and that’s fine, but don’t be in a big rush to start peeling away at them. When I first started out on my sprout voyage, I’d read somewhere to “pull any leaves that come away freely.” Well, guess what? That’s the whole damn sprout. I remember staring, befuddled, at a cutting board heaped high with sprout leaves, thinking “Hmmm, this can’t be right.” Just be gentile, and try to keep it as intact as possible, and split it in half:

There. Just do that until you’ve worked through the pile.

Next up, knock the cauliflower head down to florets. I do this second because it tends to make a mess with little cauliflower crumbles:

Ah, the cauliflower. Right, so what’s the deal? Well, though she won’t admit it, Mrs. 10Chickens evidently has a deeply held superstition that we must AT ALL TIMES have at least one head of cauliflower in the fridge. As a result, I found myself trying to figure out how to work the damn things into other recipes.

One day, in frustration at YET ANOTHER head, I threw it in with my sprouts. And… magic. The nuttiness of roasted cauliflower works perfectly with some of the subtle bitterness of the charred sprouts, and the whole dish is all the better for it. At this point, I won’t roast sprouts without it.

Anyway, once your veg is knocked down, render off your bacon in a cast iron skillet, and remove to drain:

Get your oven heated to 450F, then add your sprouts and flower to the bacon fat, and gently mix to coat:

The residual heat in the pan will start to brown the veg, as you can see. DO NOT SALT YET (which would pull out moisture and up the potential for mushing), and move to the oven. After twenty (20) minutes, give it a stir to help with even cooking, then let it go for another twenty (20) minutes.

Remove, and get your balsamic into the hot pan, which will cause it to carnalize a bit. Chop your reserved bacon and throw that in as well. Season with salt and pepper to taste (and maybe more vinegar if that’s your preference).

And that’s it. This is a go-to side for charcoal-grilled steaks or chicken, and is really fantastic with a rich salmon fillet. Or you can just eat it out of the pan, which is what happened to this batch.

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