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. Brussels sprouts may be in grocery stores year-round, but I love the tiny ones you see still on their stalks at farmers markets right now. They’re edible pingpong balls, which makes them the perfect size for leaving whole and serving at a party. 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 dry out their exteriors 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.
TSUKUNE-STYLE BRUSSELS SPROUTS
1 hour. Serves 4 to 6.
The tare can be made up to 2 weeks ahead and kept in the refrigerator. 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.
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 1/2 pounds small Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed
In a small saucepan, combine the soy sauce, mirin, brown sugar, vinegar, pepper and two-thirds cup water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a steady simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the tare from the heat and cool.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread the Brussels sprouts on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and brush the sprouts with some of the sauce, then return to the oven and continue roasting, brushing with more glaze every few minutes, until the sprouts are tender and the sauce has reduced to a shiny glaze all over the sprouts, 15 to 20 minutes more.
Transfer the warm sprouts to a flat platter and serve with toothpicks for spearing.