This dish is so popular (we sell about four hundred orders of it a week) that our cooks grumble when the first crates of Brussels sprouts roll in. They know that these tiny cabbages will soon dominate their days and nights. For this recipe, look for smaller-than-golf-ball-size sprouts that are firm and tight. Be patient and let them get a good char on the cut side, almost to the point of burning. It brings a toasty, nutty flavor that contrasts with the sweet dates and sharp vinegar. You may have to adjust the cooking time to accommodate smaller sprouts, in early winter, or the larger ones as they mature throughout the season. We generally leave very tiny ones whole and quarter the larger ones, which we do not like as much.
- Yield: Serves 4 to 6
- 3 oz [85 g] bacon, cut into ¼-in- [6-mm-] wide matchsticks
- 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 lb [455 g] Brussels sprouts, halved through the stem end
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup [85 g] pitted soft fresh dates
- 1 cup [240 ml] Chicken Stock
- 1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp red wine vinegar
- Heat a large cast-iron frying pan over medium-high heat, and cook the bacon with the olive oil until the bacon has rendered most of its fat but is still juicy, about 10 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel–lined plate, and increase the heat to high. If there is excessive fat in the pan, you can drain some, but reserve in case the pan dries out. The sprouts will suck up the fat.
- Add the Brussels sprouts to the pan, turning them over with tongs, if necessary, to make sure that the cut sides are down. Sear hard, without shaking the pan, until well charred and beginning to blacken, 5 to 7 minutes. Resist the temptation to meddle with them. The idea is to get a very deep, penetrating sear that nearly blackens the sprouts but keeps them relatively green inside. Flip the Brussels sprouts, and season with salt and pepper.
- Add the dates and the reserved bacon to the pan, toss well, and cook until the sprouts begin to color, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the stock to the pan, a little bit at a time. With a wooden spoon, smash the dates into the sauce, breaking them into smaller pieces as the pan sauce reduces. Once the dates are incorporated into the sauce, add the vinegar.
- Continue cooking until the sauce is thick enough to coat the Brussels sprouts, 2 to 3 minutes. Be careful not to reduce the sauce too much, or it will become cloyingly sweet and sticky. The sprouts should still be bright green and somewhat firm inside, but tender to the bite.
- Transfer to a serving platter. Serve warm.