A Note from the Chef
Growing up, I hated Brussels sprouts. Not just a little. My mother, whom I adored, God bless her, would boil them TO DEATH. It wasn’t so much the taste as the terrible odor that permeated through the house, into my nostrils and right down to my soul. Years later, as an apprentice chef- a Commis-I was tasked to prep 4 cases of Brussels sprouts. I really questioned my choice of profession that day! However, after I had had carefully trimmed the (entire 4 cases!!) vegetables, I was able to continue working with chef, finishing the dish. What came out of that entire preparation was a transformative experience for me- and the Brussels sprouts.
So, here’s the scientific reason Brussels sprouts smell when they’re boiled. Brussels sprouts are rich in hydrogen sulfide gases. So, when my dear mother boiled them… PeeEwwww! By introducing the vegetable to the hot water, a gas (Sulphur Dioxide) was released and, WHAM! My house and nostrils were hit like skunk-spray on a dog! The same goes for other sulphur-rich vegetables like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. However, roasting them in the oven does something altogether different. Instead, the hydrogen sulfide is slowly broken down and the smell isn’t so bad.
When pancetta or bacon are added, their beautiful aroma takes over and you have a wonderful marriage. Pancetta is my preferred go-to in this preparation. The salt-cured meat is not smoked so, the vegetable isn’t overwhelmed as it might be from bacon.
My mother, Florence, may not have been a great cook but, I owe anything that is good about me to her. For Jean Pierre, Didier and Michel: Thank you for teaching me more than cooking. The discipline and integrity I learned from your examples changed my life.
Happy holidays to you and your family, whether they’re blood or chosen. May God continue to bless us all.
- 3 Tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
- 1/3 cup (approx. 4) shallots, thinly sliced (or 1/3 cup sliced red onion)
- 1-pound Brussel sprouts. trimmed and ½’d (large ones can be ¼’d)
- ½-pound pancetta, diced
- 2 Tablespoons salt
- 1 Teaspoon black pepper
- Thick-bottomed cookie sheet (sheet pan)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees
- Sauté pancetta in a fry pan until lightly browned. Save the fat.
- Remove pancetta from the pan and sauté your shallots until they are soft, about three minutes.
- Toss your Brussel sprouts in a large bowl with the oil, salt and pepper.
- Place them on your cookie sheet, as many cut-side down as possible. *be careful to not stack the vegetable because it will steam and not brown.* Also, don’t throw away the loose leaves. They crisp up beautifully and add a wonderful nutty flavor.
- Roast in the top 1/3 shelf of your oven for 20 minutes.
- Pull them out and, using a steel spatula, scrape them off the bottom of the pan, being careful to get all the lovely brown fond still on the Brussel sprouts.
- Add the shallots and pancetta to the pan and toss around to evenly distribute everything.
- Sauté another 5 minutes. If a pairing knife can be pushed into the Brussels sprouts, they are done.
- Serve immediately.
- Adding a balsamic glaze garnish to this dish takes it to otherworldly heights!
- Try adding freshly chopped sage at the end of the dish