Sunday, August 19, 2007

Momofuku Ssäm Bar Brussels Sprouts

Back in March, Mabel and I went to Momofuku Ssam Bar and tasted their fried Brussels sprouts for the first time. It was a rare food revelation.

The Brussels sprouts weren't a revelation because they tasted good. What struck us was how David Chang took this vegetable that has been around for hundreds of years and came up with a completely novel preparation. And it was one of the best things we'd ever tasted.

I had to replicate it, or, if I couldn't do that then at least replicate the spirit of the dish. What compelled me, and others I'm sure, was the feeling that this really was a new way of looking at Brussels sprouts. It wasn't just some variation on a theme like sautéing them with pancetta instead of regular American bacon. This was like the difference between boiling potatoes and deep-frying potatoes to make french fries, except before anyone even thought of deep-frying a potato.

Deep-frying turns out to be the secret to the Momofuku Ssäm Bar Brussels sprouts. Maybe they don't actually do it that way at the restaurant, but I can't imagine how they couldn't.

After a few attempts trying to recreate the dish exactly, with sometimes funky results, I decided to strip the recipe down to the essentials. What I got was in the spirit of the original, the base recipe as I see it. It is surprisingly simple.

Deep-Fried Brussels Sprouts inspired by Momofuku Ssäm Bar

1 lbs Brussels sprouts
canola oil for deep-frying
juice from one quarter of a lime
white wine vinegar

Trim the root off Brussels sprout.

Peel off leaves.

Trim root further in order to get at more leaves. Repeat until leaves are smaller than you'd want to eat. Quarter the remaining core.

Repeat with the rest of the sprouts until you have a bowl full of the de-leafed and quartered sprouts.

Heat oil to 350-400 degrees. A wok is my preferred deep-frying vessel. Add a third of the prepared Brussels sprouts to the oil.

Be careful! The oil will violently bubble and pop as the moisture evaporates from the vegetable. I usually stand as far as I can from the wok. It is important to use a wide-mouthed vessel that is not too full of oil.

Cook until sprouts turn a bit brown and the bubbling has calmed down, about 2 minutes.

Remove sprouts from oil, and place on paper towels to drain.

Wait until oil gets back up to temperature and repeat with next batch.

Place drained Brussels sprouts in a large bowl. Add lime juice. Splash with white wine vinegar and season with salt. Toss the mixture in the bowl, taste a leaf, and adjust seasoning by adding more vinegar or salt.

That's it! Serve before it gets soggy.

Once you've gotten that down, you can start adding mint, chilies, bacon, garlic, rice puffs, and the like. If you're really adventurous, you can substitute fish sauce for the white wine vinegar. If you're lazy you can simply quarter the sprouts without peeling off the leaves. The world is your oyster.

Update 10/5/07
Gourmet magazine did a feature on David Chang in their October 2007 issue and published his recipe for Fried Brussels Sprouts which you can find on The recipe is actually for roasted sprouts, but that's just a substitution for deep frying. Anyway, now there's finally an official recipe and the secret's out on the sauce.

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