Yes, you totally read that right. I made salted caramel popcorn, mostly like anyone else out there that loves the recent en trend snack, but with a serious twist. It was only about 5 or 6 years ago that all things salted caramel became popular. I made a pistachio salted caramel variety a few years ago… so good, the HuffPo featured it. But for me, it’s about the perfect combination of salty and crunchy. I’m actually addicted to that marriage. I even had to see my Dr. about it a few years ago. He said it had everything to do with stress. I’d go to bed and within an hour I’d be craving salt and crunch… my sweet fix would come in the form of a piece of dark chocolate. I never failed my palette in indulging that need. I’ve been trying to work on killing that craving….and I think I have. Almost completely. But then I got hip to this even newer trend: the artisanal jerky fad that’s going wild. And that sucked me right back in.
Can I tell you how incredibly awesome and amazing this fancy jerky hype works for me! You already know I don’t eat pork. That’s left me wondering what so many of these bacon-in-everything dishes are like. The talk is always impressive, with faithful cooks and diners glorifying the fatty, greasy bits. My dietary lifestyle aside, I’ve not ever understood the idea of parading behind something that clogs up my arteries. Eating in moderation is one thing, but bacon-ifying (not a word, I know!) everything is on a whole other level. Bacon beer. Bacon doughnuts. Bacon bread. Bacon waffles.
And yes, bacon caramel popcorn.
THE NEW TREND
So when the TODAY Show called asking me to do something fun with Tamron Hall during her Tuesday Trend segment, I thought it’d be marvelously perfect to jerkify a few things. And of course, popcorn came to mind.
I did some preliminary research and familiarized myself with some of the latest jerky brands making craft jerky. It’s all the rave. You can find fancy jerky in every imaginable flavor combination. Chardonnay thyme, Pho (this is a stretch, but it kind of works), basil lime, pineapple orange, sweet sriracha, spicy buffalo, peppered salmon, teriyaki elk… well, you get the point. Jerky for days. This isn’t the Slim Jim sticks you’ve contemplated grabbing on the go during that long road trip to Mom’s house. Or the vacuum packed offerings in Target, etc… This stuff is serious. It’s batch made by super small, indie business owners trying to earnestly introduce a more appealing snack option to the masses.
And I am a new, totally addicted fan. I mean, who knew carne seca could be the IT thing. We’ve all chewed some here and there, right? We’ve all dried up beef at least once, no? If you think about it, it just works all the way around. These designer jerkies are much healthier than bacon. That’s one of the selling points. Most I’ve tasted are made with grass fed beef, bison, or elk. The protein value is incredible. And at the end of the day, it’s a really easy snack. Chop some up and add it to trail mix. Voila — a perfect travel snack.
All my research really did excite me and took me to the kitchen for a week’s worth of recipe development. I made a few things that worked well, others not so much, but I comfortably settled on the popcorn. It was just too easy not to make. Plus, no matter how passé salted caramel may be in the realm of food chatter and oversaturated food magazine article features, no one ever rejected a spoonful of gooey goodness. Ever.
I made this particular batch with a combo of jerky I had left so it wasn’t as concentrated as the one I made on the Today show. Interestingly, the cocktail of mango habanero, pho and Japanese curry dried beef, worked out nicely. I could still dig deep into the bowl of caramel and totally bypass pouring over the popcorn. But that would be bad. Very bad. And then I’d be defeating the purpose of using a leaner meat option as a snack.
Salted caramel on its own is a beautiful food group. Yes, a solid food group. It’s sexy. And I like sexy food. You have to care for it, though. When making it, you must give it love and attention while whisking it. Always make sure to have enough fat. The good kind. Adding jerky simply takes it up a notch and gives your friends something to talk about. You can’t add just anything to something that’s already pretty much perfect but the jerky makes it ultra chic. This one was luscious, beutiful and perfectly spiced. The heat from the habanero balanced out the silky sweetness. It was sublime.
If not, ask Tamron. She loved it.
If you missed the fun segment on this past Tuesday, here you are. Check it out and hope you enjoy! And, come back on Monday for my DIY beef jerky, a lo cubano. Because really, that was the most fun part of getting to know craft jerky.
Try out this popcorn. Bag it up and gift it to your friends. Host a party and server it in cones. Be creative. But just have fun with it. The extra coins you’ll spend on the jerky is well worth it.
Visit my post in Parade Magazine’s ‘Community Table’ for more fun popcorn recipes.
CHECK OUT MY OTHER TODAY SHOW SPOTS:
Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.
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Salted Caramel Popcorn w/ Mango Habanero Jerky
- 2 bags of unsalted popcorn, popped
- 1 ½ cup muscovado sugar
- ¾ cup water
- ½ cup salted butter, cut into pieces
- ½ cup heavy whipping cream
- ½ cup minced Mango Habanero jerky (or any flavor you choose; Lawless Jerky makes a nice one)
- 1 tsp. sea salt
Preheat oven to 250F. Add cooked popcorn to large mixing bowl. In a heavy saucepan set over low heat, combine the sugar and water. Heat until the sugar is just dissolved, slowly adding in butter. Stir in jerky bits. Bring to a boil and continue to cook until it reaches a golden caramel color.
Remove from the heat and add the cream, vigorously whisking to combine.
Return back on the stove, over low heat, and bring to a boil again. Add salt. Cook on medium heat for 10-15 minutes until the caramel until creamy. Pour over popcorn, making sure to coat all of it. Transfer to baking sheet and evenly spread out. Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt if desired. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool. Transfer to serving bowl or paper cones.