Served raw, this classic fall vegetable makes a mean salad
Planning to serve Brussels sprouts? Then you’re probably already headed for the stove, right?
But wait. These little choux taste great raw. Just slice them thinly (it brings out their natural flavor) and toss them in something tasty. Like hearty hot bacon dressing, we would suggest. It’s particularly nice if you’re experiencing cool fall weather, as many of us are now in the US.
And if you’re having trouble selling some diners in your household on the whole idea of Brussels sprouts—well, just wait until they taste them in this robust dressing. You may make some cabbage converts.
Recipe: Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Hot Bacon Dressing
Lots of vegetables that are traditionally cooked (and served as sides) work well when “shaved” (i.e., sliced thinly or chopped) and served raw-with-dressing as first courses. Chopped Kale salad is a hot restaurant menu item these days, for example. Shaved Fennel salad is equally tasty. Shaved Brussels sprouts fit right into that trend.
The dressing we use here is the one made famous by the classic Spinach Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing.
Because this salad needs to be served while the dressing is still hot (or at least quite warm), you’ll want to toss it at the last moment. But you can do the most time-consuming part—shaving the Brussels sprouts—hours ahead if you wish. Just put the shaved sprouts into an airtight container after you cut them, and refrigerate until needed. See Notes for another tip about preparing the bacon ahead of time.
This salad tastes best if you shave the Brussels sprouts as thinly as possible (paper thin is great, but not necessary). Shaving them is easiest if you use a kitchen slicer or a mandoline. But be careful! Those blades are sharp. If your device has a guard, use it.
To slice with a mandoline, grab a Brussels sprout by the stem, and apply the tip of the sprout to the blade, slicing crossways. Keep slicing until you decide that the blade is getting too close to your fingers for comfort (you won’t be able to use the entire stem end of the Brussels sprout).
You can also slice Brussels sprouts with a very sharp knife (one with a thin blade is best). Just hold the Brussels sprout by the stem end and cut crossways, starting at the tip and slicing as thinly as possible. It’s easiest if you cut a small slice off one side first to form a flat base so the sprout doesn’t roll around.
Prep time for this recipe is 15 to 20 minutes, cooking time another 15 or so.
This recipe yields 4 to 6 first-course servings.
- ~1 pound Brussels sprouts
- ~½ pound bacon, chopped into 1-inch pieces (I prefer a thick-cut bacon; see Notes)
- ½ red onion
- ~¼ cup red-wine vinegar (to taste; may substitute apple-cider vinegar)
- 1 - 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard (to taste; optional, but highly recommended)
- salt to taste (start with ½ teaspoon Kosher salt; see Notes)
- freshly ground black pepper to taste (start with 5 or 6 grinds)
- 1 teaspoon granulated or brown sugar (optional)
- Peel or trim away any discolored outer leaves of the Brussels sprouts, then wash and dry them. Slice (shave) the Brussels sprouts as thinly as possible (see recipe headnote for instructions on how to do this). Place the shaved Brussels sprouts in a large, heatproof bowl.
- Slice the bacon into pieces of an inch or less. Place the bacon bits in a large, cold frying pan. Put on stovetop and turn heat to medium. Slowly fry the bacon until crisp (10 to 15 minutes).
- While the bacon is frying, peel the red onion and slice thinly (or chop into thin pieces of about ½ inch). Add the onion to the bowl with the Brussels sprouts (you may want to reserve a few pieces of onion for garnish).
- When the bacon pieces are crisp, remove them from the frying pan with a slotted spoon and set them aside to drain on a paper towel.
- Eyeball the rendered bacon fat in the pan. For this recipe, you want approximately equal parts of bacon fat and vinegar. So if you have too much bacon fat (is that possible?), just remove some until you have an amount you judge to be appropriate. (I never do this, actually. I always use whatever is in the pan.) Add the vinegar to the hot fat and stir. The addition of cool vinegar to hot oil will cause some steam and splatter, so be prepared. Simmer for about a minute. If using Dijon mustard, you may want to add it to the pan at this point (see Notes.)
- Carefully taste the dressing (it will be hot). Need some seasoning? Add salt and pepper. Not enough vinegar? Add some. Want a little extra kick? Stir in the Dijon mustard (if you haven’t already). Kinda on the tart side? Add a little sugar, and stir to dissolve.
- Pour the hot bacon dressing into the bowl containing the Brussels sprouts, and toss briskly (tongs work well for this). The hot dressing will flavor the Brussels sprouts and wilt them just slightly.
- Divide the salad onto serving plates. Garnish with the reserved bacon bits and thin slices of red onion. Serve. At table, you may want to add additional freshly ground black pepper.
- Because bacon provides so much flavor in this dish, you want to use a good-quality brand. I prefer thick-cut bacon (so the pieces have some heft), and like to use one with a pepper coating. But an applewood (or other) flavoring would be pleasant too. This recipe is quite heavy on the bacon; you may want to use a bit less (although not less than 4 ounces of bacon, IMO).
- The thinner the Brussels sprout slices, the better this salad tastes. If you can get the slices paper thin, that’s wonderful. But even if they’re thicker than that—mine always are—it’s still good.
- I can’t overstress how dangerously sharp many mandolines and kitchen slicers can be. So watch your fingers—you want to keep all of them.
- Not a big fan of raw onion? There’s an alternative way of using onion in this dish. At the beginning of Step 5, before you add the vinegar, just add most of the onion (save a bit for garnish). Sauté the onion in the bacon fat for a couple of minutes, then add the vinegar and proceed with the recipe.
- Although I list Dijon mustard as optional, it really does improve the flavor of this dressing. I usually add it to the pan in Step 5, along with the vinegar. If you’re not sure you want to use it, just leave it out in this step and decide whether to add it when you taste the dressing in Step 6.
- I almost never use sugar in this recipe—but then I like tart flavors. Feel free to experiment with the quantity of sugar to see what suits your tastebuds.
- I like to use Kosher salt in most recipes. But if you don’t have that on hand, you can use plain table salt (though I’d reduce the amount by about half since table salt is finer and more “condensed” than Kosher).
- Want to do as much salad preparation as possible ahead of time? As mentioned in the recipe headnote, you can shave the Brussels sprouts (Step 1) several hours ahead (possibly even a day ahead, although I’ve not tried that). You can also sauté the bacon ahead of time (Step 2). Just set the cooked bacon pieces aside as directed (if it’s going to be for more than an hour or so, you may want to refrigerate them; then simply warm them in the microwave for a few seconds before using to take the chill off). Also, set aside the frying pan containing the bacon grease. Then when you’re ready to prepare the salad, place the shaved Brussels sprouts in a heatproof mixing bowl, warm the bacon fat on top of the stove, and proceed with the recipe.
Bringing Home the Bacon
“Wow, tasty!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Too bad Brussels sprouts get such a bum rap.”
“That’s because so many cooks boil them to death,” I said. “Which destroys the flavor. And the odor of overcooked Brussels sprouts—or any kind of cabbage, really—is seriously off-putting.”
“Nothing off-putting about this salad, though,” said Mrs K R. “The bacon aroma is irresistible.”
“Yeah, I’m surprised someone hasn’t made bacon perfume,” I said.
“They have,” said Mrs K R, smiling broadly. “Didn’t you know? I was wearing it the day I first met you.”
OK, she was joking. But eau de bacon still sounds like a killer product. And most guys wouldn’t stand a chance.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Chopped Kale Salad
Shaved Fennel Salad
Spinach Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing
Shaved Aritchoke and Mushroom Salad
Moroccan Carrot Salad
Spinach Salad with Parmesan
Or check out the index for more recipes