Interstate Kitchen + Bar's Andre Lobato, the featured kitchen wizard in this week's Chef and Tell interview, turns out one of the best happy hour menus in Denver, in part because it includes popcorn pelted with bacon and spicy peanuts. And, really, what's better than that?
"The first bar I ever got drunk in had a popcorn wagon where you could fill up as many bags as you wanted and then spill it all over the floor because you were hammered," says Lobato. "But ever since free bar food went the way of the dodo bird -- about the same time that people forgot that a martini was a gin drink -- we felt we had to do more than just offer straight popcorn if we were gonna charge any amount of money for it."
Interstate's generous bowl of popcorn, which sells for $3, is popped on the stove top and crowned with spice-dusted peanuts and crumbles of bacon. "I think most people are so accustomed to microwave popcorn, that the idea of using a different fat to impart flavor into the corn seems crazy, but it's delicious," says Lobato. "You've just got to be okay with the probable mess that stove top popcorn can sometimes be."
Lobato uses a carbon steel French pan to pop the corn, but any pan will work, he says, so long as the skillet distributes heat quickly and evenly.
Bacon and peanut popcorn
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1/2 pound applewood smoked bacon, cooked and finely chopped 1/4 cup white kernel popping corn 1/4 cup unsalted peanuts 1/2 tsp. smoked Hungarian paprika 1/2 tsp. crushed red chile flakes 1 dried New Mexican red chile, stem and seeds removed 1/2 tsp. brown sugar 1 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped Lawry's Seasoning Salt to taste
1. In a skillet, slowly render the bacon on low heat until the strips are crisp. 2. Remove the pan from the heat and strain the bacon bits with a slotted spoon, reserving the drippings. 3. In a mixing bowl, toss the peanuts with half of the reserved bacon fat. 4. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the paprika, chile flakes, sugar and New Mexican red chile into a powder and toss the spice mixture with the peanuts. 4. Spread the peanuts out on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven, stirring occasionally until they turn golden. 5. Add the remaining bacon fat and popcorn kernels to the original skillet, and cover. 6. Shake the popcorn vigorously over high heat, until the kernels begin to pop. 7. Turn the heat to medium low and continue to shake. When the popping starts to slow, remove from heat and let sit one minute. 8. Toss the popcorn and peanuts together and dust with with Lawry's Seasoning Salt. 9. Garnish with bacon bits and chopped parsley.