I haven’t always cared for Brussels sprouts. In fact, I am only somewhat ashamed to say, the entire cruciferous family is fairly low on my list of vegetable likes. Growing up, my mom loved making herself a big plate of lightly steamed sprouts that she drizzled with melted butter and finished with salt and pepper. This was a special meal for her to enjoy in bed while reading a book (I have her to thank for my love of eating entire heads of iceberg lettuce in bed with a good book and a cup of tea). My opinion of Brussels sprouts has shifted towards semi-favourable over the last decade or so and I have only the Maillard reaction to thank for changing my perception (but then again, what doesn’t it improve?). I also think that most of us can agree that the addition of bacon and maple syrup to most recipes can only be perceived as a boon, right?
Tips for the best pan seared Brussels sprouts
- Use the biggest cast iron pan you have: I have a 12″ cast iron pan that weighs about 500 pounds (I live in constant fear that one day I’ll clumsily drop it onto my foot) and I use it almost every single day. It’s the perfect size for large dinner parties and family get-togethers; once I’m done washing it with warm water and a soft cloth I store it in the oven to save precious counter and cupboard space along with my baking sheets and Silpat collection.
- Keep a steady temperature: Cast iron pans are fantastic at maintaining a steady temperature but it’s important to know that they also cling to that heat long after they’ve been removed from the heat. For this reason, I like to cook these Brussels sprouts just a smidge past medium heat (this is also helps to ensure the sprouts are completely cooked through).
- Trim your Brussels sprouts with care: Trimming Brussels sprouts is hardly an exciting job but nonetheless it’s one that needs doing. I claim this time as my own and listen to audiobooks or music (of course) and consider careful trimming of any kind of vegetable an exercise in mindfulness.
- Give the bacon a head start: Whether you use regular bacon or pancetta, it’s important to give it a head start in a hot pan to a) render more of its tasty, tasty fat and b) get it nice and crispy. If using regular bacon I suggest cutting it with kitchen shears directly into the hot pan.
- Use real maple syrup: I have a childhood weakness for Eggo waffles with corn syrup and butter so I understand the appeal of non-maple syrups but for this recipe you really want that maple flavour to shine through.
Maple Glazed Pan Seared Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
Enough for 4-6 servings as a side dish
2 lbs. Brussels sprouts, cut in half with the bottoms trimmed (remove any yellow or slimy outer leaves)
4-5 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces (or the rough equivalent of pancetta)
3 Tbsp. olive or avocado oil
3 Tbsp. maple syrup
Pinch of kosher or sea salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
Large cast iron skillet
Wooden or silicon cooking spoon or spatula
- Preheat a large cast iron pan over medium-high heat for several minutes before adding the cut up bacon. If your cast iron pan isn’t 100 percent seasoned you can drizzle a small amount of neutral oil into the pan before the bacon is added to keep it from sticking.
- Cook the bacon for 5 minutes or until it’s just starting to crisp. Add the Brussels sprouts and stir to coat with the bacon fat. Lower the heat to medium.
- Mix together the oil, maple syrup, salt, and pepper. Pour the mixture over the Brussels sprouts and bacon. Stir every couple of minutes but not too often, you want that lovely browning to start happening and this requires patience.
- Once the Brussels sprouts are beginning to brown in spots and the oil and maple syrup mixture has simmered down to a thick glaze they’re done. You can serve these Brussels sprouts straight from the pan or transfer them to a serving plate (just be sure to place the pan on a sturdy trivet to avoid burning a whole in your tablecloth, not that I would know anything about that).
What I’m listening to
Do you ever listen to music so powerfully nostalgic it feels like your heart is breaking? Like you’ve left childhood and can never go back? I’m sure there’s a beautiful Scandinavian word that describes this exact phenomenon but for now I’ll have to describe it as a deep yearning for things past. I was born in Stratford, Ontario (where Loreena McKennitt lives) and her music has always been an integral part of my life. Her album “To Drive The Cold Winter Away” is stunning and mysterious, it makes me think of snow and candlelight and Waldorf Advent calendars and eating large amounts of winter clementines. If you’re looking for something to listen to that’s borderline Christmas but not quite I highly, highly suggest this album. It’s beautiful, it will make you feel like a small child again, and it will warm your spirit through and through.
Loreena McKennitt – Snow