Chocolate is très cliché and cupcakes are so passé. With Valentine’s Day looming on the horizon, many of you might be racking your brain with ideas for treats to give to your sweetie, but think twice before choosing one of the aforementioned sweets. Think outside the box a little and go for something a little less traditional this year: Maple-bacon kettle corn.
As the old adage “opposites attract” holds true in many relationships, the saying also proves accurate when combining the basic tastes of sweet and salty. Plus, not everyone is a fan of the typical Valentines fare of chocolates and super sugary candy. The slightly sweet, caramelized sugar covered popcorn studded with bits of crispy bacon is sure to satisfy both your sweet tooth and your sweetheart’s salty palate.
And, believe it or not, you can make popcorn without using a microwave. As I’ve come to find, popcorn made on the stove top (as this recipe is) is a thousand times better than the bagged stuff with powdered butter that you nuke the heck out of and it’s incredibly simple to prepare. All you need is a large pot with a lid, popcorn kernels, oil and a few minutes of your time. It’ll be another milestone you can check off your bucket list.
I recommend using a cast iron dutch oven if you have one — either enameled or not — because cast iron evenly transfers heat around whatever you’re cooking. Thus, it will cook faster and more evenly and you’re less likely to have a mess of scorched sugar on the bottom of your pot when making plain popcorn or kettle corn.
Now if you’re not a fan of bacon or don’t eat it because of dietary or religious reasons, simply omit it and use all canola or vegetable oil for this recipe and add a little more salt to the pot. You could also score a bottle of Bacon Salt seasoning to still get the flavor of the original, pork-laden recipe (and, believe it or not, Bacon Salt is vegan). And for a more caramel-flavored kettle corn, use brown sugar in place of white.
Use this popcorn recipe as a base (with or without the sugar) and experiment with different flavors and seasonings: Parmesan and truffle oil, cocoa powder and cinnamon, chipotle powder and cumin, vanilla sugar and rosemary — the list goes on. Just keep the popcorn to oil ratio the same and you can’t go wrong.
Now get popping! (Warning: this recipe is highly addictive.)
Maple-Bacon Kettle Corn
Recipe adapted from JoytheBaker.com
4-6 slices bacon (preferably maple flavored bacon), chopped
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 cup corn kernels
1/4 cup cooking fat (use the reserved bacon fat and add extra canola or vegetable oil to make 1/4 cup of oil total)
4 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
In a large pot with a lid, cook the bacon over medium-low heat until brown and crisp. Remove the bacon bits with a slotted spoon, drain on a paper towel-lined plate. In a small bowl, toss the bacon with the maple syrup and set aside.
Carefully measure out the hot bacon grease (or eyeball it and estimate). Add some vegetable or canola oil to make 1/4 cup of oil for cooking the popcorn if needed.
Reheat the pot to medium-high heat, and heat up the bacon fat and oil mixture. Add the corn kernels, sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt and stir. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and wait for the popping to begin, shaking occasionally.
Once the popping begins, use two pot holders or kitchen towels to hold down the lid and shake the pot so the sugars don’t stick to the bottom of the pot and burn. Shake often throughout the popping process.
Once the popping slows, carefully remove the lid (watch out for the steam and flying popcorn) and season with 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt. Pour the bacon and maple mixture over the popcorn and use a large spoon to stir it all together. Pour it all into a large bowl and chow down!