Brussels sprouts are the ‘in’ vegetable of the moment. If you’re paying attention to the food media and the sweeping tide of Chef David Chang, it seems like you can barely hide from them these days. Chang and his Momofuku restaurants in New York made them sexy, edgy and hip. Gourmet magazine featured his roasted Brussels sprouts recipe in 2007 and GQ recently praised the new Momofuku cookbook as if it were the best thing since sliced bread and offered a Chang Brussels sprouts recipe with bacon. Bacon and brussel sprouts are a classic pairing as the richness of the bacon offsets the bitter, texturally tight quality of the sprouts. After reading GQ’s piece and in reviewing the Momofuku cookbook, I was inspired to buy bunch of bacon and a bag of sprouts yesterday. Brussels sprouts are one of the main crops of California’s Monterey Bay where I live so we have access to super fresh ones. Walking home from my local market with a bag of sprouts and bacon, I decided to take another route.
Instead of bacon, why not use Chinese sweet sausage (lap xuong, lop cheung), the sweet rich dried sausage that’s a fixture in the Chinese and Vietnamese kitchen? The sausage’s sweetness would contrast well with the sprouts’ bitterness.
I froze the bacon and thawed two links of Chinese sweet sausage (that’s how I keep them indefinitely). In the mean time, the sprouts got parboiled. Then I just sautéed them with the sausage, adding a splash of Chinese Mei Kwei Lu Chiu, the rose petal sorghum wine that’s commonly used to flavor the sausages, and some soy sauce for savory depth and caramelization. The wonderful result was savory-sweet and a tad bitter. I served the Brussels sprouts along with Vietnamese garlic noodles with Maggi Seasoning sauce and a pan-fried pork chop. Today I made another batch for lunch. Fall is Brussels sprout season so enjoy them while they last.
How to choose and prep Brussels sprouts:
When shopping for Brussels sprouts, look for tight, compact heads a good 1-inch wide. Bigger ones tend to be more bitter. Ideally, the leaves should be deep green and the cut ends should be white, signs of freshness. If you can, select the sprouts yourself, though you may be subject to bagged ones. Once home, store them in the vegetable crisper for up to 5 days.
To prep Brussels sprouts, tear off any leaves at are not firmly attached as they’ll fall off anyway during cooking. Trim the cut end if they look old and tired. Then halve them lengthwise.
Brussels Sprouts with Chinese Sweet Sausage
Chinese sweet sausage (lap xuong, lop cheung) are sold at Chinese and Southeast Asian markets. They are not refrigerated and typically in cryovacked packaging. Choose the regular pork one and look for grain alcohol in the ingredient listing. Some Chinese sweet sausage are now prepared without MSG. I avoid the lean sausages as the fat is part of the fun. If you don’t have Chinese sausage, by all means, go with 2 or 3 slices of bacon and don’t use the oil if the bacon is fatty. The Mei Kwei Lu Chiu liquor, sold at Chinese markets, is optional. I keep it on hand to make moon cakes and Vietnamese fruitcake. It's also great for sipping -- lovely, fragrant, and slightly sweet stuff that warms in the fall and winter.
Serves 4 as a side dish
1 pound of Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise (see tips above)
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 links of Chinese sweet sausage, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons Mei Kwei Lu Chiu liquor, optional
About 1 teaspoon light (regular) soy sauce
1. Bring a heavily salted pot of water to a boil. Parboil the sprouts for 3 to 5 minutes, until just tender. Drain, flush with cold water, and drain well. Set aside. The sprouts can be prepared several days in advance up to this point, covered and refrigerated.
2. Right before serving, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sweet sausage, and cook, stirring for about 1 minute, until the sausage is sizzling and fragrant. It should release some of its fat.
3. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes, until their cooked sides have are light golden. Now, splash in the liquor and soy sauce, stirring, to coat and distribute the flavors well. Keep cooking for about 3 minutes more, or until the cut sides of the sprouts have nicely browned. Taste one. If you need extra savory depth, sprinkle in a touch more soy sauce or salt. Transfer to a serving plate and enjoy immediately.