Alex Kristofcak | @akristofcak
My favorite Thanksgiving side dish is not so much a recipe as it is simply frying my favorite things in fat—preferably bacon fat. I like to pretend that resting everything on paper towels after it's fried makes the dish healthier—and it probably does!—but the real reason for doing this is to make everything crispier. The key here is getting the Brussels sprouts right and it took me many attempts to find the perfect harmony of crunch, taste, and visual appeal. Some tips: 1) Don't crowd the pan; 2) Fry quickly, on high heat, 3) Don't skimp on the fat; and 4) Fry one side only. You know you got this part right if only half of the sprouts makes it into the actual dish, with the remainder having been snacked on while fixing the rest of your meal.
Note: You can omit the bacon to make this a vegetarian dish, adding an extra 1/4 cup of vegetable oil when frying the sprouts, and seasoning with additional salt as necessary.
4 pounds Brussels sprouts
One 8-ounce package of bacon, cut into ½-inch strips
Salt, to taste
One 14-ounce jar roasted whole chestnuts
1 head garlic, thinly sliced
1 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Trim off the bottom ends of each sprout and remove any loose or yellowed layers of outer leaves until you have a nice compact sprout. Slice them in half through the stem.
Heat a large, dry skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add bacon, cooking it until nicely browned and crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate using a slotted spoon, reserving the rendered fat in the pan.
Add vegetable oil to the rendered bacon fat and raise the heat to high. When the oil is hot—test by dipping a sprout into the oil; it should sizzle immediately—arrange the Brussels sprouts flat-side down in the pan, adding as many as will fit in a comfortable single layer; it will be necessary to work in batches to avoid crowding the pan. Check on them after 2 minutes—they’re done when deeply browned on the bottom but still nicely green on top. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked sprouts to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain, reserving the cooking oil, and season lightly with salt.
Reduce the heat to medium and, when cooled slightly, and add the chestnuts. Cook for about 3 minutes, tossing gently until lightly browned, then transfer to the lined plate to drain. Add the garlic to the oil and cook until the garlic is lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the lined plate or baking sheet to drain.
Make the bechamel: In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour and when it begins to bubble, slowly add the milk in a steady stream, whisking constantly to ensure there are no lumps. Cook for a minute until the sauce thickens, then remove from the heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Combine all ingredients in a large serving bowl, tossing gently to coat. Season with additional salt and pepper as necessary, and serve. The dish can be served warm or at room temperature.