We recently sorted out that we’re hosting Thanksgiving this year. Nothing big, just some friends over for a small gathering, but still, Thanksgiving! The most important meal of the year! Talk about performance pressure. But, I think I’m just going to take it one step at a time. I’ve already decided we’re spatchcocking, and besides the turkey, isn’t everything else just gravy from there?
Did you know, up until I met Chris, I’d never eaten turkey? Thanksgivings with my family were such non-events, I can’t at all recall what we used to do. Really, I have no clue, and I’m really racking my brain here. I don’t think my sister and I ever felt like we were missing out though, because you can’t really desire something you’ve never experienced. It meant a week off from school, and that was good enough for us.
When Chris and I started dating, Thanksgiving was always fraught with separation anxiety. We were young, barely into college, and the idea of being apart for FIVE WHOLE DAYS was unimaginable. Obviously, our relationship survived. But just barely. Just kidding. (Actually, the first winter break we spent apart, my family decided to take a month-long trip to China, where all communication was virtually impossible. I’m still mad at myself for spending so much time moping around feeling sorry for myself that I didn’t really get to enjoy the visit.)
Now that I’ve been through a couple real Thanksgivings, complete with turkey and pumpkin pie and the whole nine yards, I can confidently voice my day-of preferences: NO cranberry sauce, NO stuffing, LOTS of mashed potatoes and gravy, dark meat, two slices of pie, and more Brussels sprouts please!
You see, somewhere along the way, I discovered the wonder that is Brussels sprouts. I mean, it’s seen such a huge lift in popular opinion in recent years that I’m pretty sure we’re all Brussels sprouts converts. What’s not to love, when it’s served Momofuku-style, all tart and spicy and refreshing? And who could possibly resist the rendition I present to you this year, tossed with lots of bacon, garlic, thyme and a hint of juniper. Not I. Especially since it comes from the cookbook of another lauded chef, the great April Bloomfield.
Here’s what Bloomfield has to say:
“In this dish, each bite is different—in some you get a nutty, sweet nibble of garlic, in others you’ll fork a sprout along with a big piece of pancetta. The juniper comes through just now and again. You might eat a sprout and not get the juniper, and you might eat another and get the juniper. I kind of like that.”
I kind of like that too, April. This sentiment is echoed throughout the book actually, and I find it unusually wise. The trick is to include just enough of an ingredient to leave you wanting more, but not so much that it gets taken for granted.
One last thing before I leave you with the recipe. The use of juniper berries as an ingredient would ordinarily go against all my instincts. It’s, well, GIN after all, herbal and pungent and seemingly not compatible with any kind of food. But it shines here, in a big but small way, an undertone that just works. Please please please seek out the juniper berries.
BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH BACON AND JUNIPER BERRIES
Adapted from A Girl and Her Pig
Serves 3 to 4 as a side
1 lb. Brussels sprouts
4 Tbsp olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, sliced lengthwise
3 slices bacon
1 tsp Maldon salt
pinches of red pepper flakes
2 juniper berries, smashed and finely chopped
1-1/2 tsp thyme leaves
squeeze of lemon juice
Trim the Brussels sprouts and slice them in half.
In a large saute pan, heat 3 Tbsp olive oil on medium-high until it ripples. Add the garlic and let the pieces turn golden brown on one side, then flip them over and repeat. Remove the garlic and set aside. They’ll burn quickly once browned, so act fast.
Turn the heat to medium and add the bacon. Let it cook fully, until the slices are crisp, then set them aside on a paper towel to drain.
Add the Brussels sprouts, cut side down, in one layer across the pan. Cook, using tongs or chopsticks to occasionally check the undersides, until the bottoms are golden brown. Flip and continue to cook until they’re at your desired level of doneness. This step will take about 10 minutes. Don’t rush it. Take this time to chop your bacon into bits.
Stir in the salt, pinches of red pepper, smashed junipers, and reserved garlic cloves. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the thyme, another Tbsp of olive oil, the bacon pieces, and a nice big squeeze of lemon juice. Serve.