Sage Caramel Corn

by Carol Peterman

The robust herby flavor of sage is a perfect counterpoint to the salty, sweet caramel. I love using sel gris in this caramel corn because the slightly larger grains of salt don’t completely dissolve creating distinct hits of sweet, salt, and savory with each bite.

Special equipment needed: candy thermometer

Yield: about 15 cups

1/2 cup popcorn kernels, popped using your preferred method
½ cup (4 oz.) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
3/4 cup chopped fresh sage leaves
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup toasted almonds, very rough chopped (chop nuts in half)
1 1/2 tsp. sel gris* (Sub: 1 ½ tsp. kosher salt, 1 ¼ tsp. sea salt, or 2 tsp. flake salt)

To sort popped corn and remove any un-popped kernels, transfer the popped corn by handfuls into a clean bowl leaving behind all un-popped kernels. Set aside.

In a large (6 qt) stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat, melt the butter and then add the granulated sugar, brown sugar and corn syrup. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Stop stirring once the sugar dissolves and bring to a boil. Insert a candy thermometer and let the caramel cook until it reaches 300°F (about 8-10 minutes). While the caramel is cooking, use a pastry brush dipped in water to wash down any sugar crystals that have formed on the sidewalls of the pan. Have ready, two lightly greased heat-resistant (wood or silicone) mixing spoons or mixing spatulas and set out a large (11x17) rimmed sheet pan.

When the caramel reaches 300°F, turn the heat to the lowest setting. Using one of the greased spoons, stir in the chopped sage and baking soda stirring quickly to combine. Let the sage cook in the hot caramel for about 30 seconds then mix in about 1/3 of the popped corn, the almonds and salt. Using two mixing spoons, work the popcorn and nuts into the caramel. Once the first addition of popcorn is mostly coated add the remaining popcorn. Work quickly and use a cutting motion to break up large clumps of popcorn. Keep stirring and cutting until the mixture is evenly coated, making sure to turn the caramel corn from the bottom of the pan to the top. It gets slightly difficult to stir, but keep working until all the popcorn has a nice even coating of caramel. As soon as the popcorn is nicely coated, turn it out onto a sheet pan and continue to break up large clumps using a spatula. Within a few minutes it will be cool enough to break the clumps into nice bite-sized pieces by hand. Store in an airtight container.

*Sel Gris is gray sea salt. It’s usually a slightly large grain and doesn’t dissolve completely into the caramel corn, so you get nice hits of salt against the sweet as you eat. Some sel gris can be particularly course, in which case I’ll grind it down a bit in a mortar and pestle, or you could crush it with a rolling pin.

If you don’t have sel gris, you can use kosher salt or table salt, but if you have a nice sea salt or flake salt, go with either of those. I’ve adjusted the quantity because the grain size varies so much with the different types of salt. As always, adjust to your taste, but don’t taste the hot caramel! Wait for it to cool and then make a note on the adjustment for the next time you make this caramel corn.