The Hungry Engineer

Gourmet Popcorn

17 Jul 2008

Is your idea of ‘making popcorn’ taking the little plastic-wrapped, tri-fold bag out of the cabinet and chucking it into the microwave for a few minutes? Or is popcorn to you the butter-soaked mess you pay five dollars for at the movie theatre (to go along with your four dollar soda)? Well, it doesn’t have to be.

Popcorn is ridiculously easy to make at home and doesn’t require any specialized equipment. Here’s how I make mine:

  1. Place roughly 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a 3 quart heavy pot. Sometimes I use a little less oil if I’m feeling particularly health conscious.
  2. Drop 2-3 kernels of popcorn into the oil, cover with a lid (this is critical), and heat over medium-high heat.
  3. When those kernels have popped, the oil is at the right temperature. Dump in approximately 1/3 to ½ cup of popcorn kernels into the heated oil and cover with the lid.
  4. Patiently wait, eagerly listening to the popping begin slowly, build to its crescendo, and then eventually taper away. Remember to shake the pan occasionally while this is going on.
  5. When the popping is largely finished, carefully dump the freshly popped popcorn into a generously sized serving dish.
  6. Immediately season as you see fit

It still sounds like more trouble than popping the bag into the microwave or buying a tub at the theatre though, right? So why would you want to do this on your own? There are two reasons that I prefer to make my own popcorn. The first is that it tastes better. I can purchase whatever kind of popcorn I like (and believe me, they do taste different). And freshly made popcorn, regardless of variety, is darned tasty. Plus I like to get all fancy with the seasonings. Here’s the mix I used on our popcorn this evening:

½ t kosher salt : 1/8 t sugar : 1/8 t smoked paprika : 1/16 t cumin : 1/16 t cayenne pepper

I dump all of it into the bowl of a mortar and pestle and mash it like crazy until the large crystals of the salt are all but powdered. I find that it sticks to the lightly oily, fresh-out-of-the-pan popcorn better when the salt is very fine. I get the seasoning together while I’m waiting for those first few test-kernels to pop so I can dump it on immediately after I pour the popped popcorn into my bowl. Also, I don’t generally use all the seasoning (in fact I’m not even sure I used half). My method is to sprinkle a little on, stir it up, and then taste a handful to see if I like the way it’s seasoned.

The second reason I prefer to make my own popcorn is that I can control what goes into it. I pop it in heart-healthy vegetable oil. I only very lightly season it. With that degree of control, it becomes a relatively healthy snack (popcorn has roughly a gram of fiber per cup of popped corn) that manages to be flavorful enough for you to want to eat it. I know, I know, air-popped popcorn doesn’t have all that horrible oil and is so much better for you. You’re correct. However, I find the flavor of air-popped popcorn much less appealing (plus I don’t want to deal with yet another small kitchen appliance).

Oh, and you know how you’re supposed to include more whole grains in your diet? Well, this counts as a whole grain. Consumed without the gobs of pumped on butter at the movie theatre, popcorn is practically health food.

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