Is it just too freaking weird for me to say that I have felt sorry for a vegetable? Brussels sprouts have taken a bad rap for so long. Like its red-headed sister broccoli, it’s been the subject of derision no vegetable should ever have to endure. Truth be told, broccoli’s reputation has been publicly besmirched even worse. The one time ruler of the free world, and our Commander in Chief, George Herbert Walker Bush once went so far as to have banned it from Air Force One. “I do not like broccoli and I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!”
Honestly, though I think Brussels sprouts should have been on 41’s ’86’ list long before broccoli… I mean, they’ve got mad haters.
A 2008 survey conducted by Heinz revealed that Brussels sprouts was the most-hated vegetable in America
…but an interesting thing happened to these Belgian baby cabbages a few years ago that permanently changed their culinary reputation. After years of being dunked into boiling water for half an hour and served smelling and tasting like a grill cooks socks after Saturday night, some tree hugger genius tried roasting them instead and that changed everything. In the last several years they have become the new darling of green vegetables.
Having grown up in the Michigan, where we actually had seasons, I like serving food that fits the time of year and Brussels sprouts always both felt & looked like autumn food so I was determined to find a way of serving them as part of my Thanksgiving dinner, which just happens to be my favorite meal of the year. So when I first heard about the idea of roasting these nasty smelling globes I had to give it a try.
The first time I simply cut them in half, tossed them with some olive oil, kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper and threw them in the oven… the result was startling. Their entire flavor profile was transformed into a mellow, nutty delight.
What I planned for my second pass was going to be even better. I like combining sweet with salty and smoky so I substituted rendered bacon fat for the olive oil. (Side Bar Alert… NEVER cook bacon without saving the rendered fat for the occasion to elevate almost any dish to a new level. This is one of the items I always have in my freezer.)
Then I wanted something to balance the smokiness of the bacon fat and maple syrup seemed to be the right call. (Hey I told you I was from Michigan!) The result was epic and this dish has become a permanent part of my Thanksgiving dinner ever since… I hope they’ll become part of your as well!
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and start by cutting off the stems and then cutting them in half from stem side to top. This will give you a lot of separate leaves but you can add them to salads or roast them on a flatbread or with other vegetables they add another level of flavor to whatever you add them to.
Cut side down to start
Brussels Sprouts Leaves
Place the trimmed heads in a bowl and toss to coat with melted bacon fat, (olive oil if you must) well along with some salt and freshly cracked black pepper. I take the time to place them all cut side down to start with in a roasting pan which ensures you will get a more even browning. The most important thing is that you give them a shake or turn a couple times as they are roasting so they get evenly cooked.
This should take about 30-45 minutes but always spear them with a sharp paring knife to ensure that they are tender all the way through. This is one case where it’s better to overcook than under cook. You’ll end up with more crispy brown leaves but that’s a good thing. Place them in a bowl, drizzle with maple syrup and chopped bacon, toss to coat and serve!