Let me start by saying I fucking hate brussels sprouts. Hate.
Sautéed with butter and garlic? No. Roasted? Boiled? Fuck off. I have the same feelings for brussels sprouts as I do the music Andrew Lloyd Weber or Nickleback, so you can imagine my surprise when I came across a salad of shaved Brussels Sprouts that is not just tolerable, but actually kind of genius.
I first encountered it at Stone Park Cafe in Brooklyn when my wife ordered it. It looked more like a slaw than anything you would normally associate with that foul beast. I was oddly intrigued and tentatively tried a bite. Light, fresh with lemon, spicy from whole grain mustard, crunchy from red onion, and not at all brussels sprout-like. It’s like a subversive bonsai slaw. Yum. It has since become the go-to start of one of my favorite meals (along with a burger and Plymouth martini, ideally while sitting at the bar).
Recently, someone pointed me to recipe at Food 52 attempting to deconstruct, and I had to try it. I don’t know if it’s exactly the same, but it’s really close, and f’ing good on it’s own. Naturally, being the kind of person I am, I had to change it.
My big move was to add a little bacon. Crumbs of crispy bacon bring in a smokey note that sit well with the slightly savory flavor of the sprouts, and contrast with the brightness of the lemon and onion. Plus bacon is just generally awesome. I also dialed up the mustard and changed the cheese slightly.
The recipe calls for shaving the sprouts with a mandoline. I don’t have a mandoline, but I do have a sharp knife. The way I do it is to cut each sprout in half the long way and then lay the flat side down for stability. You can then use a chef’s knife—and keeping the tip anchored—to shave fine (16th of an inch or thereabouts, less if you have mad Jedi/Ninja knife skills) slices off with a gentle rocking motion. A food processor won’t get you fine enough slices; if you go that route, you might as well start with a cabbage (and put on the original cast recording of “Phantom” while you’re at it).
For the salad
3 cups Brussels sprouts (maybe 8-10 large sprouts)
1/2 small red onion, sliced finely
4-5 strips crispy bacon
For the dressing
2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 medium lemon)
1-2 teaspoons good whole grain mustard
1 teaspoon honey
Pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino toscana (romano in a pinch). Don’t cheap out on the cheese.
1. Put the bacon in an aluminum foil lined baking sheet and and bake at 400° for about 20 minutes (until it’s crispy).
2. Slice the onion as finely as you can (aim for 1/8″ or better) and then loosely chop the slices so you get little strips about an inch or so long. Soak the slices in cold water to soften the oniony-ness a bit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
3. Shave the sprouts as described above. The bits that looks kind of like a cross section of a brain should come right apart with your fingers. Discard the core, or other solid chunks, so you just have the delicate shaved bits.
4. Once the bacon is done, pat with paper towels and let rest for a few, then chop finely.
5. To make the dressing, combine the lemon juice, honey, mustard, salt, pepper and olive oil in a bowl. I like to use wayward bits of sprout to verify seasonings.
6. Drain the onions and pat dry. Combine with the shaved sprouts and bacon in a large bowel. At this point it can sit in the fridge for a bit if needed.
7. When you’re ready to serve, dress. Once the dressing is evenly coating the sprouts, etc, mix in the pecorino until it’s evenly distributed and serve. Kapow!