Thursday, November 04, 2010

Balanced : Sweet & Salty Pancetta Caramel Corn

I'm not a big fan of popcorn. I used to love the stuff, it was the perfect snack to munch while cuddled up on the sofa watching a movie. And now, well, we're not so fond of each other. Not entirely sure why exactly, I suppose my taste buds simply fell out of like. Thinking of popcorn and writing this post has me reminiscing about all of the things I used to hate and now enjoy so much, like: caramelized onions, squash, beets, goat cheese, and sweet potatoes. In fact, until I sat down to write this post I hadn't realized that tastebuds could go both ways. Sure I've heard of tastebuds maturing, growing to love the tastes of foods once loathed. But can it go the opposite way, can you eventually dislike the taste of something you once enjoyed? Case in point, popcorn.

You know, I suppose I don't so much dislike the flavor, I feel that popcorn tastes ok, I just don't like the hassle. The stabbing kernels, those bits of 'popcorn skin' that scrape against your gums and get stuck in between your teeth, that at times, no amount of flossing can rid you of. Now, that I can live without. 

Here I sit delving into my personal aversion with popcorn. Kind of stupid of me actually. I hope I'm not talking you out of popcorn altogether, because I'm about to turn around and tell you to eat popcorn. I'm also about to explain how amazing this popcorn recipe is (remember, this coming from a general popcorn hater). So don't jump on mallory's popcorn bandwagon of hate, give this recipe a try a first. Whether you love the stuff, or turn your nose up at it, this spicy, sweet, pancetta studded recipe will either only deepen your love for this generally popular snack, or make you born again popcorn lover.

No microwaves required. Simply white corn kernels, popped in a few tablespoons of bacon fat (come on, it's already got bacon in it, what's the harm in using a little bacon fat for popping?), tossed with pancetta, sprinkled with cayenne mixed with sea salt, and finished with a healthy dose of black tea caramel. Ladies and gentlemen, despite my disinterest in popcorn, the sweet and salty snack doesn't really get much better than this. I suggest pairing this amazing snack with a good cocktail or tall glass of beer, this would make the ultimate bar snack.

Pancetta Caramel Corn


3/4 cup white corn kernels
2 Tablespoons bacon fat
8 ounces pancetta - fried until crispy
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 Tablespoons dark corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon black tea
nonstick spray


1. Heat 2 Tablespoons of bacon fat on medium high in tall lidded pot. Toss kernels in the pot, and cover with lid. Wait until the kernels start popping, when they do, hold the pot with holders and shake lightly over flame until popping stops. Pour popped corn into bowl. 
2. Toss fried pancetta and, salt, and cayenne with hot popcorn. Place popcorn on large cookie sheet prepped with nonstick spray.
3. Place cream and loose black tea in a small saucepan, heat until simmering, remove from heat and allow to steep ten minutes. Strain loose leaf out. (you could easily use a strong black tea bag here if you'd prefer)
4. Place sugar, water and corn syrup in medium saucepan, heat over medium heat, stir until sugar dissolves. Stop stirring, and continue to let it bubble for at least 10-15 minutes, until candy thermometer registers at 300 degrees and the sugar is a nice amber color (being careful not to overcook or burn).
5. Remove sugar from heat, and immediately pour black tea cream into sugar (mixture will bubble, be careful) and stir until blended.
6. Immediately pour caramel over corn mixture on cookie sheet, and toss with nonstick spatula (or spatulas, whatever your tossing style may be) until popcorn is well coated with caramel.