Brussels sprouts get a bad wrap – even from me. They don’t deserve it either. They are a veggie that needs a little extra love. Growing up they were a sad veggie sold in square boxes in the frozen food section of the grocery store. My mother admittedly didn’t try serving them because she didn’t like them herself. It wasn’t until I was already engaged to my husband that I discovered that these mini-cabbages could actually taste delicious.
There are so many vegetables that I’ve learned to love by having them served to me at a restaurant. I always try everything on my plate, even when it’s a vegetable I don’t think I like (that means you Mr. Swiss Chard – you’re next!) Hubby-to-be and I were at our favorite neighborhood North End restaurant — the now-closed Sage. Here the individual leaves of the sprouts were separated and cooked so that each leaf was coated with flavor and cooked evenly. I immediately went home and failed at an attempt to do the same.
Flash forward about a decade to this year when I made the Apple Cider Syrup. One of the first things I thought of making with it was those long forgotten Brussels sprout leaves. This time I had a culinary degree and a decade of experience behind me and they were delicious.
Yes, taking the leaves of the sprouts apart it a bit fussy. You could certainly use sliced or shaved sprouts, but using the leaves is special and so very pretty. There are a few ways to get the leaves apart, but my favorite is to slice the sprout down the middle from top to stem then make another small v-shaped slice to remove the stem. Then the leaves will easily come apart with your fingers. Once the sprouts are separated, the rest is simple.
Perhaps the real hidden gem in this recipe is not the sprouts at all, but the duck bacon. You can buy duck bacon online at D’Artagnan for 30 dollars a pound (plus shipping), or you can pick up a smoked duck breast from many gourmet butchers and food shops and make your own. The smoked breast is also on the pricey side, but it is more readily available. In the Boston area I’ve seen it at Russo’s and Wilson Farms, but I’ve also seen it a few farmer’s markets and gourmet shops. Once you have a smoked duck breast all you need to do is slice it and cook it. The finished product is not as salty as bacon, but just a flavorful. When you render out the fat from the duck bacon you get crunchy bits of delicious bacon-y duck, but you also get luscious duck fat with a lovely smokey flavor. It’s really a win win. I easily put it up there with the best bacon I’ve ever had.
The other plus to the duck bacon is the world it opens up to you when you cook for non-pork eaters. You can use this method for duck bacon in almost any recipe that calls for bacon. Cooking Light featured a collection of 12 appetizer recipes using bacon in the November issue. Here are a few that would work particularly well using this duck bacon method.
- Bacon Phyllo Cups
- 7 Oysters with Bacon Mignonette
- Bacon and Ricotta-Stuffed Mushrooms
- Bacon-Stuffed Jalapenos
When you soften the strong flavor of Brussels sprouts with duck fat, smoke and then sweeten it with cider syrup you end up with a vegetable that even the most ardent sprout hater will admire. It is certainly a beautiful side dish for a special occasion, but why wait for a special occasion? Enjoy!