I recently spent 10 days in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, aka cattle country. Yet, the best thing I ate, the food that made me hum with happiness as I chewed, was pig candy. Yup. Pig candy. It’s not for pigs; it’s from pigs: Thick slices of bacon are dredged in a mixture of brown sugar, cayenne, salt, and spices and baked until bubbly and caramelized. As they cool, the sugar hardens, creating a crunchy candy shell making pig candy one outrageously salty, sweet, sticky, chewy, smoky, crackly snack.
I tasted my pig candy in downtown Jackson, Wyoming, a place not particularly partial to pork. Fortunately, for me and other pork-lovers, one of Jackson’s hippest restaurants, Cafe Genevieve, has Chef Joshua Governale at its helm. Prior to moving to Jackson, Governale trained with a chef from Savannah, Georgia, who introduced him to pig candy.
Like many deep fried Southern foods, pig candy is an unapologetic indulgence, one that many Wyomans are hungry to try. “Oh, yeah, customers love the pig candy,” says Governale, who also caters affairs in the area. They love it so much that it’s one of the most sought after items for wedding receptions!
If you can’t get to Jackson or to the South, you can make your own pig candy at home. There are actually several recipes available online; most call for a basic mixture of brown sugar and cayenne, though individual recipes vary. Even Chef Governale’s recipe varies day to day. “I use the same ingredients each time, but it’s a little different every day, depending on my taste; somedays there’s a bit more mustard, other days it’s more cayenne,” he says.
Governale doesn’t use measurements and encourages you to experiment and taste as you go until you find the right mixture. He did share a secret with me though: “The key to making great pig candy is to dry the coating first. Brown sugar is really moist. But if you dry it, it adheres to the bacon and doesn’t fall off.”
Though many recipes call for cooking bacon at 400 or 425 degrees F for 10 to 20 minutes, Governale takes the opposite approach: He cooks it at a low 225 degrees F for 45 to 65 minutes to produce “a slow sugar caramelization on top of the bacon.” It doesn’t get much better than that.
Here are Chef Joshua’s Governale’s guidelines to making pig candy at home:
*Preheat oven to 225 degrees F. Use a roasting pan to allow bacon drippings to fall into the pan and keep the bacon strips crisp.
*Make a coating mixture out of brown sugar, white sugar, mustard powder, cayenne, black pepper, and salt.
*The secret step, which takes some patience, is to dry the mixture. Spread the mixture on a sheet tray and let it dry (up to overnight); then grind it in a blender or processor to create a meal. Now it’ll adhere to the bacon better.
*Dredge each slice of bacon in the mixture, shaking off any excess, and lay it on the roasting rack.
*Bake at 225 degrees F for 45 to 65 minutes without touching until dark brown, bubbly, and crisp, but not burnt. Remove bacon slices with a spatula. Serve warm or at room temperature. If you have leftovers, don’t refrigerate them, which will make them soft. Simply leave them on a plate on your counter top.
Photo credits courtesy of Cafe Genevieve