Hello, my fellow penguins! We need to have a chat about deglazing, the secret to this amazing dish of Brussels sprouts and bacon!
Deglazing is a hallmark of classic French haute cuisine, and despite the encouraging spectre of Julia Child, most of us are still a bit frightened of French cooking techniques. I know I was! I watch a lot of cooking videos online (I’m partial to Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White; they make cooking look effortless), and I finally got tired of feeling afraid every time someone would intone, “Deglaze the pan.”
When you’re cooking something – meat, vegetables, fruit; it really doesn’t matter – you’ve probably noticed the formation of brown bits at the bottom of the pan. These brown bits, called fond, result from the food in the pan caramelizing as it cooks. Deglazing refers to pouring liquid into the pan and scraping up all the fond so that it becomes part of the dish again, as opposed to simply remaining stuck on the pan. Use anywhere from 1/4 cup to a cup of liquid; the amount is really up to you. The liquid will steam and easily lift up the browned bits with a bit of prodding from your cooking utensil. These caramelized bits impart so much flavour! You can then cook the deglazing liquid out of the dish, or merely reduce it and leave it as a part of the dish (known as a reduction; for example, if you deglazed with white wine and reduced it without boiling it off, you could call this a white wine reduction). You can also deglaze multiple times; whenever I see fond build up during the 40-minute long process of caramelizing onions or shallots, I deglaze. I typically deglaze around 6 times when I caramelize onions or shallots. I also add enough liquid to immerse the onions/shallots from time to time, simmering them in the liquid until it boils off. This helps immensely to keep the onions/shallots heating evenly and caramelizing beautifully. You can deglaze a dish even if the recipe does not call for it; it’s your prerogative. As I mentioned, you can cook out the deglazing liquid so that it does not affect the final outcome of whatever recipe you are using. Be sure you deglaze while the browned bits are still brown, and before they turn black. If they turn black, they’re burned, and you definitely don’t want to introduce that flavour to your dish; hence, don’t deglaze a pan which has blackened bits.
The choice of liquid is up to you. Typical deglazing liquids include stock, water, and wine. (In some dessert applications, dairy is used, but you’ll almost never use dairy in deglazing savory dishes.) You can customize the liquid to the dish you’re making. In this Brussels sprouts dish, ruby port was used, because it imparts a faintly sweet flavour that complements the Brussels sprouts beautifully. Think of the flavour profile you want to create, and use a liquid that will fit that. If you don’t want to alter the flavour of your dish, then just use water. It works brilliantly.
Deglaze a stock pot in which you’re building a soup right before you add all the rest of the ingredients and set it to simmering; you’ll boost flavour immensely. Or cook a mirepoix (a mixture of chopped carrots, onions, shallots, celery, and / or garlic) in fat (olive oil, animal fat, or butter) and deglaze that; you’re on your way to a killer sauce! Strain out vegetables, if desired, and flavour sauce with more fat, citrus juice (lime or lemon), and salt and pepper to taste. Read more about deglazing; you’ll learn that it’s the foundation of some really yummy sauces. Sauces add a lot to a dish. Restaurants know this, and hence most of the dishes you’ll order in a restaurant will feature a sauce of some kind. Sauces really do elevate food.
The secret to this phenomenal dish is in the repeated deglazing. The flavour is deepened, and there are so many harmonizing tasty layers of flavour: salty bacon, caramelized shallot, sweet Port, ever so slightly bitter Brussels sprouts. The characteristic bitterness of the sprouts is muted and balanced by the other flavours in the dish. Blanching the sprouts in salted water infuses the sprouts with a gentle salty tang, and finishing them in the pan with the shallots and port ensures that the Brussels sprouts turn out tender rather than hard. The interplay of textures is remarkable: Toothsome, tender Brussels sprouts, crisp bacon, softened shallots.
The interwoven flavours of this dish are nothing short of gastronomic joy. I really do believe this dish can convert someone who doesn’t like Brussels sprouts into a huge fan of them. And the wellspring of this dish? My husband’s imagination. That man is a wonderful, wonderful cook; he has made cooking at home a genuine pleasure for us both, and pushes himself to learn new techniques and dishes all the time. Thanks, babe. 😉
Pan-Fried Brussels Sprouts and Bacon with Port Reduction
approximately 1 cup ruby port (can use more or less, depending on how much sauce you want and how much of a port flavour you wish to impart to the finished dish)
approximately 1 cup water (can use more or less, depending on how much you wish to dilute the port flavour)
1 lb. bacon, chopped while raw into 1/2″ pieces
1 lb. raw Brussels sprouts
2 shallots, very finely chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
Combine port and water in a 4-cup liquid measure. Set aside.
Cook bacon and transfer bacon to plate NOT lined with paper towels. Carefully transfer most of the bacon fat from the pan to a small, heatproof bowl and set aside. Return pan containing remaining fat to stove.
Blanch Brussels sprouts for 2 – 3 minutes in well-salted boiling water. Drain and set aside.
Heat bacon fat in pan on high heat until just smoking. Add shallots, salting and peppering to taste, and reduce heat to medium – medium high. Cook shallots, stirring frequently, until caramelized, about 10 – 15 minutes. Deglaze pan every so often with port mixture to prevent shallots from crossing the line from caramelized to burned.
Increase heat to high and add Brussels sprouts; toss to coat. Once Brussels sprouts reach the same temperature as the shallots, reduce heat to medium-high and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until Brussels sprouts reach desired level of tenderness and begin to turn golden brown. Deglaze pan with port mixture and scrape up all browned bits. Simmer until sauce is slightly reduced, 2 – 3 minutes. You can also choose to reduce the sauce down to a glaze form that coats the pan contents.
Add bacon fat and stir to mix thoroughly. Add bacon, scraping the fat that has accumulated on the plate into the pan, and cook 1 minute more, or until warmed through. Salt dish to taste.
If you wish, you can reserve some of the bacon fat and pour over finished dish.
Source: My badass Husband 🙂