Some food, some drink.
A lesson in Porcine Recycling: Maple Bacon Kettle Corn.
If you're throwing out your bacon grease after Sunday breakfast, you're doing yourself a disservice. About forty percent of bacon is fat, and if you think about it, it's just downright silly that you'd spend all that time rendering out most of what you bought just so you can toss it in the trash. Bacon wants to be sensible; after all, curing and smoking are simply means to keep our streaky friend from prematurely going bad. In a world of over-the-top bacon-themed recipes (and in the spirit of sensibility), I'd like to submit this recipe call to reason: Popcorn prepared in bacon grease dosed with real maple syrup and finished with hickory smoked salt. Nothing ridiculous here; just plain old-fashioned good snacking that'll fire on every one of your taste buds.
The bacon we get from locally procuring our hog is goo-OOO-ood! So good that I always make it a point to save that grease for a rainy day. On an afternoon that in hindsight seemed to be promising precipitation, I was craving popcorn but I wanted to season it with a little extra something special. Chalk it up to the tendencies of a southpaw, but I tend to zero in on one specific piece of inspiration and work bass-ackwards until I can see the big picture. On this occasion my muse was a bottle of smoked salt; a perfect pair to the rendered pork fat stockpiled in the fridge. Having the salty and savory sides of the equation, I figured it wouldn't hurt to add some sweet as well. Back from the pantry with a jug of maple syrup in hand, I was ready to make kettle corn. Maple bacon kettle corn.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
Begin by pulverizing the smoked salt with a mortar and pestle or using a grinder. You're looking for a fine powder. Set it aside.
In a two quart saucepan over medium heat, add the bacon grease. As it melts, you're looking to cover the bottom of the pot 1/8 inch; so adjust the grease if you need to. You'll know the grease is sufficiently heated as it'll just begin to smoke. Add the popcorn and then sloooowly pour in the maple syrup, taking care to avoid any splattering. Lid up the pot (preferably with a lid that vents the impending steam), and give the pot a jiggle every 30 seconds or so with the lid on. For my electric range, I pick up the pot and give it a gentle swirl after each time the burner cycles off.
After about 5 minutes or so, the corn will start to pop. At this point, you'll probably want to shake the pot twice as often, and a little more vigorously. Continue to let the corn pop until things grow relatively silent. Better to under-shoot here than let things burn. Move the corn to a bowl and immediately season with as much of the pulverized smoked salt as you see fit (but I really wouldn't do more than the whole 1/2 teaspoon).
- Admittedly, there is one trick ingredient here; I don't know how you're gonna make this without smoked salt. And while you can certainly buy some (almost always for a king's ransom). I got the means for you to DIY your smoked salt. You'll thank me; and your friends will thank you for sharing.
- The problem with popcorn and salt has everything to do with the size of your salt granules. Generally speaking, anyone who seasons their popcorn with Kosher salt or even table salt is a fool. Hell, I think that stuff branded "popcorn salt" is too big. How do you know? Look at the bottom of your bowl after the movie's over and tell me what you see. I completely powder my popcorn salt (and my pumpkin seed salt for that matter) using a mortar and pestle or a fancy schmancy ceramic grinder. You increase surface area so the salt flavor is more intense, meaning you'll use less and get more flavor. That "salt dust" sticks to every nook and cranny of your kettle corn, so add as you need it; but certainly don't use more than I've listed in the recipe here.
- Use real maple syrup or just don't do this recipe. It's a minor investment that can be used to enhance the flavor of so much more than pancakes. I use mine in everything from glazes and brines to cocktails. It's only a shot glass full, but it's an important ounce.
- Oh - and do watch yourself adding the syrup to the hot grease. I add the popcorn to the fat first so as to help mitigate any dangerous splatter (all the same, please be careful).
- It goes without saying that you gotta lid your popcorn while it pops. I've toyed around with different vessels, and for the most part I think you gotta go with something that readily vents steam and doesn't allow all that much to drip back down on the corn. Just be aware that grease and sugar at 350F is some serious stuff; so I'm not gonna tell you how to lid up your popcorn and just leave that up to the sound judgment of you the reader.
Here we have a tripod of taste enveloping delicate kernels of popped corn. The pork fat by itself isn't enough to let you know bacon is present; although the savoriness of bacon is most certainly there, it takes a shot of smoked salt to bring smoky and salty back into the mix. The third leg of flavor held in place by the maple syrup is the tie that binds; exposing the umami of the pork fat and tempering the salt.
Bacon grease is magical stuff; and if you're just throwing it out, then you might as well go buy those breakfast strips made out of turkey instead. I like bacon as much as the next carnivore, but I've never really gone out of my way to add smoked pork belly where it doesn't belong. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for for pork belly pageantry, but using bacon for bacon's sake is just a waste of good side pork; especially at today's prices. Nothing's wasted here; as that fat rendered from a previous occasion gets a second shot at making your mouth water.