When I ate at MJ’s Martin Jazz & Tapas Lounge a couple of weeks ago, the highlight of the exceptional meal were two tiny bits of bacon brittle accenting a plate of scallops and mashed potatoes. Loaded with salt and smoke and sweet, those tidbits were packed with decadent richness and powerful flavor. It made me realize that most people never exploit the bacon/sugar continuum, apart from an occasional dunk in maple syrup. Shame on all of us.
Admittedly, this type of thing is nothing new. Modern chefs in bigger cities have lately been fascinated with all parts of the pig – from tail to snout – and the south has long been a proponent of getting the most from a dead hog.
Bacon, though, is still supreme, the height of daily fascination. Maybe it’s because bacon is so dreadfully common, yet most people eschew the strips of fat and meat for health reasons. Maybe it’s because frying up a batch requires more effort than most folk want to spend on an average morning. Or maybe it’s just that bacon is so damn good.
I searched around for recipes, tested (extensively) and adapted to suit my tastes and ease of use. My version lacks the sticky luxury of Domenica Macchia’s brittle at MJ’s, but it is easy to throw together for any home cook armed with a few simple ingredients and a candy thermometer. And your friends and loved ones will look at the proffered pieces with horrid fascination. They’ll try it. Then they’ll reluctantly thank you, take seconds and ask for the recipe.
(If you’re interested in making the brittle outdoors, check out my step-by-step slideshow that shows just how easy it is to throw together on a gas grill.)
Bacon Peanut Brittle
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon reserved bacon fat
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup cocktail peanuts
1 pound bacon (you won’t need quite that much, but cook the whole thing to compensate for the inevitable taste-testing)
1. Liberally grease a large baking sheet, or cover a baking sheet with greased parchment paper, or use a silicone mat (like a silpat).
2. Fry the bacon. You want it crisp, but not too crisp. Chop or tear the bacon into 1/4 to 1/2 inch bits.
(I found that the best combination were some crispy strips and some chewy strips. For some reason, there was more bacon flavor when I used basic supermarket brands; if you use thicker-cut bacon, you may need to increase the amount to get good coverage across the brittle.)
3. In a medium saucepan, combine both sugars, the corn syrup and water over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves and the syrup comes to a boil. Attach a candy thermometer to the pan, increase the heat to medium high, and cook, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 290 degrees. Immediately turn off the heat.
(Try not to mess with the sugar while it is boiling, in order to avoid crystallization. Corn syrup is much maligned, but it’s a classic tool that helps avoid that crystallization. I tried versions with all white sugar and all brown sugar, but found that a mixture of both combined deeper flavor with that glowing translucence that makes brittle so pretty.)
4. Stir in the bacon fat, vanilla, baking soda and salt and quickly stir to distribute. Then, quickly add peanuts and bacon bits and mix to coat. Immediately pour the hot mixture onto a prepared baking sheet. Use a silicone spoon or spatula to spread mixture as thinly as possible.
(There is so much stuff in the brittle, it will start to seize and thicken quickly. That – and the mass of bacon and peanuts – prevents the brittle from becoming nice and thin. If you want that style, cut the amount of peanuts and bacon you add and leave the heat on when you stir in all the ingredients. This should make for a lighter style of brittle.)
5. Cool 10-20 minutes until hard, before breaking into pieces. Store in a covered container.