Saturday, January 16, 2010

Spiced Pork Crackling Peanut Brittle

I sat here trying to come up with a clever name for this post, one that would convey the psychic weight of a candy enriched with the byproduct of a Saturday lard-rendering. But, in the end, I think the confection can speak for itself.

There is a wonderful book out there, which I don't yet own, called Fat. I have Ms. McLagan's earlier Bones and for all the irrelevant cookbook titles that are out there (pretty much anything published by The Food Network), these are a gold mine for cooks like me, who first acquire the ingredients (in this case, odd cuts of meat) and then go in search of a recipe. While leafing through Laura's copy I found a recipe for spiced crackling brittle, in which you first roast rendered pork rind in an improvised 5-spice powder, then mix with sugar that is melted and brought to the hard crack stage. Pretty simple. Not so simple when you are improvising with cracklings and peanuts, as I decided to try. First, I roasted my cracklings in a mixture of star anise, allspice, black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt, with a little lemon in for brightness.

Then, I proceeded to make an old-fashioned peanut brittle, from a recipe supplied by the eternally reliable Joy Of Cooking. This involves melting sugar, adding cream of tartar, baking soda, butter and vanilla at crucial stages, heating the sugar to the hard crack stage (305) without scorching it, adding nuts at lighting speed, pouring it out to cool, and finally, pulling the only-slightly cooled candy with your hands thus incorporating enough air bubbles to qualify it as a true brittle and not just some average piece of hard candy with nuts (and in this case, pork fat).

Working with the cracklings was not quite the same as supplementing a second kind of nut. I wanted to add them early, at the stage where you'd normally add butter. You know me, always looking for ways to shave off some fat here and there! The pork being spiced, and the temperature being hot, and also my candy thermometer being unreliable, resulted in some premature scorching. It all happened so fast. I was pretty sure I hadn't hit the sweet spot of 305 with my sugar before I poured it onto a greased cookie sheet, but miraculously it pulled and hardened just like brittle should.

The brittle was pretty special: sweet, salty, spicy and, in places, deliciously fatty. Co-workers made quick work of it and I'm looking forward to perfecting it on round 2 when I incorporate smaller pieces of crackling a bit later on in the cooking process. In the meantime, I'm saving up for Fat so I can figure out what the hell I'm going to do with all my lard.

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