More than just a movie theater treat. —INGRAIN, Winter/Spring 2020
STORY / Cara Condon
For me, popcorn is worse than bacon. As soon as I smell it, I want to eat all of it...NOW.
Few foods are as enticing as fresh-popped corn. I have fond memories of my dad busting out the air popper on special Saturday family movie nights. We’d pass around Grandma’s old metal mixing bowl, back and forth on the couch, each of us unable to get enough.
What is it about popcorn that turns fairly normal, reasonable people into slobs? Is that just me? I start trying to cram entire handfuls into my mouth with the urgency of someone on fire. No other food turns me into a complete maniac the way freshly popped popcorn does. I’ve slowly started admitting this to a larger audience, and I’m pleased to report that others have verified similar claims of this uncontrollable popcorn phenomenon. Turns out, it might even be a universal human experience.
And now that I’m an adult woman and I can do whatever I want, popcorn is no longer reserved for Saturday nights. Sometimes it’s all I eat for dinner.
I like to use a saucepot with a glass lid so I can watch my little buds dance. A large cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven also work, and the popping doubles as a workout because shaking that heavy kitchenware can get a little tiring. The key is tallish sides; even just a few inches will do.
Heat up about 2 tablespoons of fat. I like to use coconut oil, but you can use anything with a high smoke point. Just don’t use olive oil or butter; they are too delicate for high-heat applications.
The old-school yellow variety you can find at grocery stores works great, or you can get all fancy with red, purple, and other “artisan” kernels.
When the oil is really hot, dump all of your kernels into the saucepot.*
With the lid secured, turn the burner to medium-high heat. Keep close to the stovetop; this is not the time to wander away and fold the laundry and then forget what you were doing. (Hmm...maybe that’s just me again?)
Anyway, you’ll want to give the pot a good shake every couple of seconds or so; put your hand on top of the lid (use a hot pad!) if needed. The shaking doesn’t have to be constant, but you want to make sure that the kernels that haven’t popped yet are on the bottom of the pot.
Soon you’ll start to hear the popping slow down; that means there shouldn’t be too many unpopped kernels hitting the bottom of the pot. Turn off the heat, and tip the lid off the pot so the kernels don’t get too steamy and soft.
Dress up that popcorn and eat it with urgency!
*Many instructions say to start by adding just a few kernels to the pot, then pour in the rest once they start popping. As I have gotten lazier, I have found that this is an unnecessary step. Plus, when you open the lid to dump in the rest of your kernels, I always have a few that explode out of the pot, and that’s annoying and messy (and that oil is hot!).
Also because of my laziness, I can’t tell you how many kernels I use. I have absolutely stopped measuring, but I’d say it’s about ⅓ of a cup, usually just enough to cover the bottom of the saucepot. If you put a single layer of kernels on the bottom of almost any pot, the popped corn equals about a full pot once popped (unless you’ve got really squatty or really tall pots).
Below are a few of my favorite combos, but play around with your own ideas—that’s half the fun of making popcorn.
Keep in mind that some ingredients, like nutritional yeast and soy sauce, act as your salty component. (Coconut aminos, the aged sap of coconut blossoms, is a soy-free alternative to light soy sauce.) Making seasoned butters is another good way to amp up the flavor.
Coconut aminos + nutritional yeast + olive oil
Rosemary butter + Comté (grated) + flaky sea salt
Soy/Sriracha butter + lime zest + dried seaweed (crumbled)
Sriracha butter + cilantro + cotija (crumbled)
LIME KETTLE CORN
Coconut oil + sugar + lime zest + cayenne*
*Add 2 tablespoons sugar to the uncooked kernels and shake the pot constantly while cooking. When popping stops, spread popcorn onto a sheet tray and sprinkle with lime zest and a bit of cayenne pepper.
Mix together 4 ounces unsalted butter (softened) + 1 tablespoon Sriracha or soy sauce (or ½ tablespoon of each for a spicy-umami kick), to taste, until well combined. Refrigerate for up to 1 week.