Among my favorite wintertime bites are the warm Brussels sprouts served at Prune in New York. The sprouts come steamed tender and bathed in olive oil and salt, toothpicks on the side for spearing. It’s a great appetizer and always surprises guests who would never think to serve sprouts like the natural hors d’oeuvres they are.
When I set about making my own version, I knew I wanted a sprout with lots of caramelization but not necessarily crispiness. I found inspiration not from a flavor profile but in their size and shape. They’re edible pingpong balls, which makes them the perfect size for serving whole. Their size reminded me of one of my favorite noshes to have with drinks in yakitori restaurants: chicken meatballs impaled on wooden skewers and glazed in tare, made from soy sauce, mirin and brown sugar, which tastes like the primordial soup from which umami itself sprang.
Applied to Brussels sprouts, tare complements the distinctive cabbage flavor beautifully. The sprouts get a head start in the oven to develop some flavor of their own, ensure they’re cooked through and their exteriors are dried out so the glaze can stick to them better. Once they come out of the oven, topple the sprouts onto a tray, add a bowl of toothpicks on the side and let guests go to town. For a vegetable that’s usually mired in reluctant virtuousness, it’s a sexy setup.
FOR THIS recipe, the tare, or sauce, can be made up to 2 weeks ahead and refrigerated. Choose small sprouts, if possible, since they’re already bite-size. If you get large ones, cut any larger than a golf ball in half.
TSUKUNE-STYLE BRUSSELS SPROUTS
By Ben Mims
- 2-1/2 pounds small Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed
- >> Tare:
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 1/3 cup mirin
- 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2/3 cup water
In a small saucepan, combine tare ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spread Brussels sprouts on a large, rimmed baking sheet and roast 20 minutes. Remove from oven and brush with some of the sauce, then return to oven and continue roasting, brushing with more sauce every few minutes, until sprouts are tender and sauce has reduced to a shiny glaze all over them, 15 to 20 minutes more.
Transfer warm sprouts to a platter and serve with toothpicks for spearing. Serves 4 to 6.
Nutritional information unavailable.