In the October Bon Appetit, the BA Foodist talked about making popcorn the old-fashioned way on the stove. That got me to thinking how a generation of kids these days have been raised on microwave popcorn where the magic of popping is contained in some bag tucked away in a microwave. Though microwave popcorn is convenient, the gourmet variety is often more tasty and you can also control the flavor better. If you want to, you can use less salt and butter, add some sugar for kettle-style popcorn, or you can even add other herbs and spices to create your own unique falvors. I have heard of people using sage, rosemary, taco seasoning, mild chili powder, ground pepper, and parmesan cheese.
So how is it done?
Well, it is pretty easy and you don’t really need to buy any special equipment, just the whole corn kernels. You will need about 2-3 tablespoons of cooking oil for 1/2 cup of kernels, a pan or large metal prep bowl, and any flavoring you want. Here is a recipe from Alton Brown on how to use a large bowl covered with aluminum foil. You can also use a large stock pot with cover. Just make sure to crack the cover and let the steam out once the kernels start popping. If you search the internet you will find numerous recipes using slightly different oil and kernel amounts and different types of vegetable oils.
There are also specialty popcorn makers if you want to go that route. One is called the Whirley-Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper, which can be purchased at Amazon for $24. Another vintage-style popper is called the Atom Pop Corn Popper, but this item is a bit harder to find online. You can check their website to see if a dealer is near you or contact them directly for a way to purchase it. If you don’t want to make you snack on the stovetop, of course you can also buy a hot air popper such as the Presto PopLite Hot Air Corn Popper. This item costs about $20 and gets very high marks on Amazon.
As for kernels, the most important thing to keep in mind is that old, dry kernels don’t taste as good. One way to go is to buy fresh gourmet varieties online and choose the one you like best. The picture above is for the Fireworks Popcorn Variety Pack
, but there are other gourmet suppliers too. Boulder Popcorn, Black Jewel, Crown Jewel, Wabash Valley Farms and the already-mentioned Fireworks. If you don’t want to go the online route, you can always look for Orville Redenbacher’s at your local supermarket. Some people also store the kernels with a little moisture in the jar to prevent them from getting dried out. You can use a mister or just pour some water in the jar, immediately pour it out, and then let the residual water add some moisture to the kernels while storing.
As for salt, Morton makes a special popcorn salt that is finer and sticks to the kernels better. You can look in your supermarket for it or buy it directly from Morton (4-pack for $5.56). You can also make your own version of popcorn salt by putting some kosher salt into a coffee bean or spice grinder to make a finer grained salt.
I hope this inspires you to try making your own popcorn. Microwave popcorn is surely convenient, but the old-fashioned popcorn is healthier and you get to control the flavor to create that perfect snack food. Plus, kids can start to see the ‘magic’ again and help out in the kitchen. Happy popping.