Thursday, May 08, 2008

The New Favorite Vegetable

"I think Brussels sprouts might be my new favorite vegetable," says The Man. I am still on the fence about this, because macaroni and cheese is my favorite vegetable...wait, are you saying that mac and cheese is NOT a vegetable? Ha! Tell that to generations of Southern cooks and purveyors of the classic "meat and 3" cafe offerings...mac and cheese are always on the vegetable side of the menu.

(Actually, I'm not sure I have a favorite that I prize above all others. I like just about all veggies, especially vine-ripened tomatoes...which aren't really vegetables, but fruit, so go figure.)

To recover from the trauma of the sardines, I sort of went all out in the comfort food direction for Tuesday night's dinner. Those lovely Berkshire pork chops, a creamy Parmesan risotto (yes, it was from a box, but it was still good!), and the baby Brussels sprouts sauteed with butter and bacon. I even gave Mark Bittman the chance to redeem himself with the pork chops...still not forgiving him for the vinegar pork roast.

The problem with grilled pork chops, as my buddy Mr. Bittman says, is that they get dry, and it's because American pork has been bred to be leaner, yadda, yadda. Hence the whole brining thing. But, he says no matter that they have the propensity to get dry, he likes the taste of grilled pork chops and makes and eats them anyway. He's come up with some tips and tricks to try and keep them moist and flavorful...the foremost trick is to get a pork chop that's at least 1-inch thick, because the thinner ones will cook fast and are more prone to dryness.

Behold the Berkshire pork chops from the farmer's market...the $11.99/pound pork chops from the farmers market, which were worth every single penny we paid for them. They were like small pork roasts, and the flavor was amazing. (I forgot to take before shots, but the after shot is pretty sweet, don't you think?)

Bittman suggested that you bring the pork to room temp as you preheat the grill. Then, generously season your chops with salt and pepper, slather them with a tablespoon or two of olive oil and throw a tablespoon or so of lemon juice on them right before putting them on the grill.

Sear them on the hottest part of the grill for about 2 minutes on both sides, then move to a cooler section and cook for about 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of the chops. After they have finished cooking (use a meat thermometer to test the temperature--needs to be about 140 degrees F for medium--pull them off, drizzle a little olive oil over them, and let them rest for a few minutes before serving.

Back to the sprouts...Brussels sprouts have never been high on my list of things to eat. Many times, while on the road, I was asked by my project team what I wanted for lunch. My standard answer was "I eat anything except canned tuna, liver, and Brussels sprouts, so if we could avoid the All Canned Tuna-Liver-Brussels Sprouts Cafe, I'll be fine."

It's not that I don't want to like Brussels sprouts, because I do...they are such wee tiny cute veggies--sort of the Pop'ables of the vegetable food group. (Unfortunately, it seems that Pop'ables have been discontinued...I really liked the Reese's Peanut Butter ones.) But, I've never been able to get past the bitter, overcooked cabbagey taste of them...probably because most of the ones I've ever had have been old and overcooked.

(I also feel the same way about kumquats. They're cute, so they should be tasty. I've not had one in decades, but I vividly remember NOT liking them at all, and feeling very duped when I tried them. Because, they look like miniature oranges and should taste like miniature oranges, is probably what my child mind was thinking, and it was a cruel, cruel joke that they did not. Damn the universe for being so unfair!!)

Enter the bacon. Just about everything on the planet is better with bacon, and what's not better with bacon just needs cheese or chocolate. We have about a half pound of Nueske's bacon left in the freezer from an extremely thoughtful holiday gift that The Man received from my friend Tessa. It is some damn fine bacon.

I chopped 3-4 slices up and sauteed them to render the fat and get them crispy. I put the bits on paper towels to drain, and set the pan with the bacon fat aside while I worked on the sprouts. While the bacon was cooking, I put a small pot of water on to boil. Then, I pared off the tough bottom core of the sprouts and removed the outer couple of leaves, which sort of came off when I cut off the core. Then, with my paring knife, I made an "X" in the bottom of each one, not going all the way through, to facilitate the blanching. I popped them into the boiling water for 5-6 minutes, then pulled them out and plopped them into an ice water bath to "shock" them and stop the cooking.

After they had cooled, I patted them dry and cut them in half. I heated the bacon fat back up and added a tablespoon of unsalted butter, then sauteed the Brussels sprout halves until they started to caramelize a little bit. And, you know what? They weren't bitter and were darn tasty, if I do say so myself. I'm wondering now if I can use the bigger fresh ones and get the same result by blanching and then sauteeing, or if it really has more to do with the size. I'll keep you posted.

Here's a cool blog post with pictures of Brussels sprouts in progress--very interesting--plus a recipe for Brussels sprouts with lemon-mustard sauce, which I think I might try in the next week or so.

I'm still wary of the kumquats, though...but, maybe, just maybe they will surprise my adult self, and we'll find out they aren't Satan's Citrus after all.


LinC said...

Thanks for the tips on cooking pork chops. I don't cook them because I always make them rubbery. But I had a very nice grilled pork chop last night at Mac's Grill, a new restaurant in Athens. (We had a dinner meeting for the SF group. They gave us a nice private room, and we were just starting to read when the DJ cranked up next door. So we read VERY LOUDLY.)

I like brussel sprouts. I even like frozen brussel sprouts. The Birdseye Steamers packages of brussel sprouts work very well in the microwave. Even Joseph ate them without complaint. I'll have to try your cook-with-bacon trick. I could make brussel sprouts the favorite veggie at our house too.

Laughing_Wolf said...

Brussel sprouts -- fresh ones -- are excellent! I have several plants of them in the garden this year, hope to freeze what I don't eat. :) LW