Maple Bacon Brussels Sprouts

When it comes to bad raps, Brussels sprouts steal the spotlight.

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Just say those two words and you’ll see noses crinkle, lips curl, and heads shake. I think you can thank the 1950s, or at least an image of that era, and the Donna Reed clone who doled out boiled Brussels Sprouts and a smile-laden threat about finishing vegetables.

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Here’s the truth. Anything boiled lacks depth of flavor. The bubbling cauldron of liquid boredom sucks out nutrients and texture.

And this may come as a shock, but butter isn’t a cure all. You can’t boil something, drown it in canary colored fat and expect it to knock your socks off.

Roasting has always been my go-to technique for Brussels sprouts. The high heat, a little olive oil, salt and pepper transform this cabbagey canvas into a showstopper. The sprouts caramelize and become sweet. They get a little crunchy, too. Lets face it, crunching can make us happy. Think of potato chips!

Believe it or not, I’ve found a way to make Brussels sprouts even more awesome.

One night after work, I was making a meatloaf, which took an hour, so I had time to think. I mostly dwelled on the fact that my meatloaf was baking at 375 and I needed a temperature of 400-450 to perfectly roast the sprouts.

Do I break down and boil them? Nope. Should I steam them? Nope. Could I sear them? Yes, but not whole. They’d burn on the outside before they cooked on the inside.

My solution was to quarter them. But, what about flavor?

As luck would have it, I found some bacon in the freezer. I keep the last few strips of a pack frozen so I can take them out, cut off a few pieces and go. These little bits are called lardons.

Guess what? Bacon fat, and bacon itself, make everything better, even Brussels sprouts.

But I saw my epiphany and raised it one. How about my ol’ favorite… The salty/sweet combination?

Here’s what you need:
1 pound of Brussels Sprouts
4 strips of bacon
1 tablespoon of olive oil
3 tablespoons of good maple syrup
Salt & pepper

In a large pan, cook the bacon until it’s crispy.

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While the bacon fries, wash the sprouts, dry them, and then cut off the sprout’s rear end to get rid of the stem. Some leaves will fall off. Save them.

Quarter the sprouts.

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Remove the crispy bacon and drain it on a paper towel-lined plate.

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And leave the fat in the pan. Lower the heat a tad.

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Now breathe, because this next step will have The American Heart Association on standby.

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Toss the quartered sprouts into the hot grease (all of it), and stir. Use your Go-Go Gadget arm for this. The grease will sputter and the sprouts will pop up into the air. Keep stirring, because they’ll start browning fast. As soon as you see caramelization start forming, and the bacon grease is absorbed, add in the olive oil and throw in the leaves that fell off as you quartered the sprouts.

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Sprinkle in a few good pinches of salt and several grinds of black pepper. Keep stirring, and tossing.

After about 10 minutes, the sprouts should be softened, shrunken, and browned. The leaves will be slightly crispy. Taste a leaf. If it needs more salt, add it.

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Now drizzle in the maple syrup and stir.

Crumble up the bacon strips, toss in the pan, and stir.

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Serve.

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I recommend real maple syrup here, not the cheap stuff.

The sprouts are soft, yet slightly crispy. They have a bit of a char that makes for a deep, earthy cabbage flavor. The maple syrup is just sweet enough to accentuate the natural sweetness of the caramelized sprouts. The bacon gives you a crunch, and a hit of salt that really leaves your tongue rockin’ & rollin’.

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This dish is proof that though their initials are BS, that’s not what you have to say when I tell you Brussels sprouts are fantastic!

Tip: Anytime you cook bacon, save the fat. Let it cool to room temperature, then pour it into a plastic cup and freeze it. You can strain it first, but I don’t. Next time you’re frying potatoes or sautĂ©ing veggies, use a spoonful of the bacon grease instead of regular oil. Boom. More flavor!

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