Sunday, December 02, 2007

Spiced nuts with brown sugar bacon

A long time ago in our big dirty house in Milwaukee I cooked up a batch of bacon in brown sugar with pecans. It was really good and completely addictive. It also made the house smell like burned, sugary pork product for about a week. This last week I saw a recipe in the New York Times for roasted nuts topped with sugared bacon--it kind of reminded me of the pig candy episode from many years earlier so I decided to make something like it for Melanie's holiday potluck party last night. It turns out that there is a way to make sugared bacon in your oven without making your house smell porky. Who knew?

I got a bag of cashews and a bag of almonds from the market, both were roasted, unsalted nuts. I think each bag probably had about 1 ½ cups of nuts in it. I added in the rest of a bag of pecans that I had to make about 3 ½ - 4 cups of nuts total. This is a successful mix--cashews, pecans and almonds--but you could do all cashews or something if you prefer. Separated the whites out from 2 eggs and beat them lightly in a big bowl (I saved the yolks to make zabaglione the next morning). Dumped all the nuts into the beaten egg whites and tossed until they were coated. Added 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt, 5 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon cayenne and 2 teaspoons garam masala. Stirred everything up really well so all the spices were evenly mixed throughout the nuts. Spread the spiced nuts out on a baking sheet and popped into the oven to roast at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Keep a really good eye on them--get in there with a spoon and move them around often. They will be soft while they are in the oven but will crisp up after you get them out of the heat. If you're vegetarian, you can skip this next part and you'll just have some delicious holiday spiced nuts to eat, but the bacon is what really elevates this, so here's what you do next: Take a package of bacon (usually 1 pound) and lay the strips flat on a sheet of parchment paper over a baking sheet. If you don't use parchment paper then you will have a bacony mess everywhere, so be sure to do that. Also be sure to use the kind of baking/cookie sheet that has a raised edge--I think they're properly called jelly roll pans--because then the bacon grease will be contained. Needless to say, the first time I made this years ago I did not use parchment paper nor a jelly roll the oven got all spattered and it's amazing we didn't have a grease fire or something. Also, that's clearly what accounted for the semi-permanent sugar/piggy smell in our house thereafter. Anyway. Lay out your bacon on your parchment papered jelly roll baking sheet and proceed to sprinkle brown sugar all over the slices, at least 1/2 cup of sugar. Rub it all over the bacon strips so both sides are covered then stick it in the oven with the nuts at 350 degrees. The bacon will also probably take about 20 - 25 minutes, again keep a good eye on it and turn the pan around if one side appears to be browning faster than the other. There is nothing sadder than burnt bacon, after all. Take it out when the bacon is golden and crispy looking. Take the strips of bacon off the parchment paper and let them cool on a wire rack--they'll become delightfully crispy. Now break (or cut) the strips of sugared bacon up into teensy pieces and toss them in a serving bowl together with your spiced, roasted nuts. Byron and I were eating these alongside our tumblers of bourbon and it is a seriously good cocktail snack--salty, sweet and spicy all at the same time.

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