Lately I have been exploring Brussels sprouts at restaurants around Asheville and in the kitchen of the Carolina Bed & Breakfast. Like sweet potatoes two years ago, Brussels sprouts have exploded as the “it” ingredient, prepared and served in countless iterations everywhere from downtown Asheville to the River Arts District and beyond. The Junction, King James Public House, Curate, Ambrozia and the Imperial Life are just a few of the places James, Abby and I have eaten Brussels sprouts in the past few months.
I will confess that I have always hated Brussels sprouts. Or at least I hated them as they were presented to me in my childhood, boiled and soggy and reeking of cabbage. My children, however, spent their childhood years at a British Grammar School outside of London and grew up to believe that Brussels sprouts actually deserve a place on the table at Christmas. This means that whenever we go out someone gets all excited about the sprouts and orders them, and I obediently give them a taste. Jeffrey Steingarten, in his book The Man Who Ate Everything, posits that since a baby will generally accept a new food without resistance after eight to ten tries then the same should hold true for adults. He successfully overcame aversions to kim-chi, anchovies, lard and Greek food this way. And I have learned to like Brussels sprouts.
Having learned to like them, it was a short leap to experimenting with using Brussels sprouts as a small bite at the hors d’oeurves hour at our Asheville Bed & Breakfast. My favorite presentation was at King James Public House and since they are followers of the Carolinabnb on Twitter I tweeted them to ask if their sprouts were roasted or fried. The answer was “sear in a cast iron pot!”. This makes sense because you can get a cast iron pot ultra-hot and get a quick sear with very little oil (if the pan is well seasoned). Not having a suitable pan I decided to try roasting them to see how that worked. The sprouts at King James were almost like chips so I sliced mine thinly on my mandoline before tossing them in olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar, then roasted them in a very hot oven for about 10-15 minutes until they were well browned. They tasted okay but the slices fell apart and I ended up with something more like Brussels sprout floss. Kind of neat in its own way but not what I was hoping for. I also thought they were a little dry so I tried adding some balsamic vinaigrette to the spoon along with some crispy bacon but all I could taste was the vinaigrette. When roasted the sprouts lose some of that strong cabbage flavor and take on a more delicate taste. Bacon compliments it well but other things can overwhelm it. Nevertheless I made up some spoons with the sprout floss, bacon and a little salt and sent it out to our guests. The spoons came back empty so I guess it worked but it wasn’t what I was looking for.
On to frying! I had some olive oil which I had used to fry some sage leaves so I used that, hoping to impart some of the sage flavor into the sprouts. I was initially a little dubious about using olive oil since it is not an oil which is commonly used for frying, having a relatively low flash point. But research on the web convinced me that it could be done so I went ahead. This time I sliced the sprouts into halves and quarters, depending on their size and fried them a handful at a time in the oil. The sprouts contain a fair amount of water so if you do this at home use a splatter guard or protect yourself with a lid. The sprouts were delicious! Crunchy and flavorful, especially with the bacon topping. It needed just a little pop so I sprinkled on some smoke chipotle sea salt which I buy locally at the Tea & Spice Exchange. You can use regular sea salt and some pepper instead.
Fried Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Smoked Chipotle Sea Salt
1 pound Brussels Sprouts, cleaned and cut into halves or quarters
6 slices good quality bacon, cooked crispy and crumbled
Smoked Chipotle Sea Salt (or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper)
Oil for frying
Heat the oil to between 325 and 350 degrees. Carefully place the sprouts in the oil a handful at a time. They will spit and sputter some. Fry until browned, turning once or twice. Drain then toss with bacon and salt. Enjoy!