Saturday, April 5, 2014

Brussels Sprout, Pork Belly and Apple Skewer

It's an undeniable truth of the universe that people who don't like brussels sprouts just haven't tried this recipe yet.  

Food can be prepared so many different ways.  Variations in method of cooking, such as steamed or roasted, the addition of sweet, savory or spicy seasonings and the incorporation of other ingredients for texture or flavor all affect the final taste of a dish.

For example, I would prefer my salad without olives.  But I love olive bread and I love olive tapenade.  Doug's brother likes split pea soup but he doesn't like to just have peas.  I'm sure everyone can think of an example like this.  And the reason for like versus dislike may be just a difference in the food's preparation.  When someone says that they don't like a food, I always like to know how they've had it prepared because sometimes it's not the food, it's the packaging.

There are three tasty bites on this skewer: brussels sprout, pork belly and apple.  Once the skewers are prepared, you have the bonus result of soy mayo and a shot of apple rum as by-products of your preparation.

The longer you soak your apples in the rum, the more they're going to taste like rum.  I know, an innovative concept.  But seriously, the first time I tried this, I left them marinating for about a full day.  The rum tasted great but the apples were solid rum cubes and completely overwhelmed the sweet sprout and salty pork.  If you follow the timeline below, you can enjoy the apple steeped rum and still let the apple be an apple.

Rum-Soaked Apples
Makes 20 skewers and 10 one ounce shots
  • 2 empire apples - skinned and chopped to 1/2 inch cubes (reserve the cores)
  • 1 1/3 cups spiced rum (I used Captain Morgan)
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • salt and pepper
Marinate the apple cubes and apple cores in the rum for 5 hours.  Remove the cubes from the rum and cook them in the butter over medium-high heat for 10 minutes or until they are soft (but not mushy). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

The apple core can stay soaking in the rum until your ready to serve the shots.  I enjoy the apple-steeped rum at room temperature.

Everyone knows that bacon makes everything better and since bacon is pork belly, then pork belly makes everything better too.

Pork belly is basically just up-charged, uncured bacon.  Whether it's the facade or the flavor, I don't care.  I love it.  But my increasing love for pork belly certainly isn't decreasing my love for bacon.  I think they both have their places in the kitchen and they're welcome in my home anytime.

For me, bacon is more accessible than pork belly and also can be ready to use on the fly (10 minutes versus 10 hours).  But that ten hours is almost all hands-off cooking time.  There's only about ten minutes of prep, so if I have the time and the meat should be a star of the dish, I like to use the uncured belly.

It's so worth it.  Slow cooking the pork belly in the sous-vide results in an incredibly tender piece of meat.  It feels like it melts like butter on your tongue when you eat it with those crispy broiled edges for some texture and crunch.

Sous-vide Pork Belly with Soy Mayo
Makes 20 skewers
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 clove garlic - diced
  • 1 teaspoon scallions - diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 pound pork belly
  • 3 tablespoons mayo
Create a marinade by processing all of the ingredients (except the pork belly and mayo) in a food processor.  Seal the marinade with the pork belly in a vacuum bag and cook in the 170 degree sous-vide for 10 hours.

Remove the bag from the sous-vide and chill for 2 hours.  Cut the bag open and remove the pork belly and suspended fat.  Reserve the sauce.  Cut the pork belly into chunks and broil it until the outside is a little bit crispy, about 5 minutes. Continue rotating the pieces until all sides are cooked.

Rather than just dumping the marinade, strain that reserved sauce and reduce it over medium heat.  Add mayo to thicken it further.  It's going to have a great flavor and you can serve it squeezed directly on the skewer or as a dipping sauce on the side.

If you're looking for an alternative to the sous-vide cooking, try Emeril's recipe for braised pork belly.

Brussels sprouts can taste bitter when they're undercooked.  If your sprouts are large or there are variations in the size of your sprouts, cut the big ones in half for more even cooking.  Those flat surfaces are going to char up really nicely too.

The key with this recipe is not to overcrowd your pan.  If you have a lot of sprouts, cook them in batches, otherwise the moisture releasing from the veggie as it cooks may cause your syrup to turn watery and it will be more difficult to make that great caramelization on the sprout.

Spicy Maple-Glazed Brussels Sprouts
Makes 20 skewers
  • olive oil
  • 1 pound brussels sprouts - base trimmed
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 pinch of red chile flakes (more or less depending on how spicy you like)
Over medium-low heat, pour enough oil to just coat the bottom of your pan.  Add the brussels sprouts and season with salt and pepper.

Cover the pan to lightly steam the sprouts and speed up cooking.  Every few minutes give the sprouts a stir and check them for firmness.  They should be getting soft but still have some crunch in the center by about the ten minute mark.

Turn the heat to high.  This step starts to crisp up the outside of the sprout while the inside continues cooking.  Once the sprouts are hot, add maple syrup and chile flakes.  Don't leave your post during this step!  Continue moving the sprouts around the pan to prevent them from burning and keep cooking until the sprouts begin to char.  Personally, I prefer them to be pretty well 'charred up'.

Once all three of your components are cooked, put them on your skewers.

These little skewer toppers in the photo I made out of plastic toy animals.  I drilled a small hole in their bellies, sorry Simba!, threw on a couple coats of gold paint and one coat of polyurethane.

Written down that sounds like a walk in the park, but these little guys all have four little legs to paint around and since it took three coats of gold paint to cover their original color I was thoroughly annoyed with the project, even though I do really love the result.

Note: I made two dozen of these.  The first dozen I hand painted all three coats of gold paint with a brush.  Then I stuck them on a skewer and dipped them in the polyurethane.  With the second dozen, I thought it might be easier to use a spray paint primer as the first coat.  Even though I only had to use two coats of gold paint, that still ends up being three coats total and I thought some of the texture of the animals was lost (albeit only slightly) when using the primer.

I served these skewers at the Pasta, Passion and Pistols party


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