Sunday, August 10, 2008

Popcorn: A Cheap Snack


Who doesn't love popcorn? I don't know anyone who dislikes it. Yet popcorn gets a bad rap for different reasons from several different viewpoints. Dieters avoid it because it's so often doused with fat. Frugalites eschew the astronomical markup on microwave popcorn. And the whole thing with corn basically taking over the American diet probably hasn't helped popcorn's image either.

But I love popcorn so much that I decided to grow some this year. It's one of the most common snack foods in our home. We pop ours right on the stove in oil. I've heard from a lot of people that they prefer expensive microwave popcorn to oil-popped corn because the texture of microwave popcorn is "just right." It seems a lot of people have trouble producing perfectly popped popcorn on their own. Well, it just so happens that I've got the oil-popped cooking method dialed in. So I'm going to share it with you. Follow these steps and you'll soon be enjoying perfectly popped popcorn, on the cheap.

Start with a fresh bag of popcorn, a 2-quart stockpot with a fitted lid, some neutral cooking oil like canola or safflower, and a serving bowl. If you want butter and salt to season the popcorn, have those ready too.

Put your pot on the burner and heat it over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Pour about 1 tablespoon of oil into the pan, and let that heat for another minute. Then pour in some popcorn. You want to add enough so that it all lies on the bottom of the pan in a single layer, without entirely covering the pan bottom. You should see the corn covering about 2/3 to 3/4 of the bottom of the pan. Give the corn and oil a swirl so that all the kernels are coated with oil. If your pan was properly pre-heated, you should see tiny bubbles forming in the oil around the kernels pretty much right away. Cover the pan with the lid.

Leave the heat on medium. (Higher heat produces tough, chewy popcorn and will contribute to scorching.) You will not hear any popping for a full minute or more, though you may hear some sizzling. This is fine. When the popping begins, give the pan another shake with the lid on. Let the popping continue. Listen carefully as the popping slows down. When you hear what you think might be the last pop, start counting out loud, "one-one thousand, two-one thousand..." If you hear another pop before you finish with "three-one thousand," start counting again from one. When you get through "three-one thousand" without being interrupted by another pop, dump the popcorn into the waiting serving bowl. This should leave very few unpopped kernels in the pan.

You should now have a bowl full of large, beautiful, tender popcorn without any burnt pieces. If there are any, you may have used too big a burner for your pan, or your stovetop may run hot. Adjust this for your next batch.

Popcorn's texture improves slightly if you let it cool for a minute or two before eating it or adding butter. So I always melt my butter after the popcorn has popped. You can jazz up your snack by adding garlic, spices, or even fresh herbs to the butter. A finely grated hard cheese is also a nice twist. For best results when adding cheese, use a microplane grater and don't add too much. I've found that ancho chili powder makes a nice addition to the melted butter. Finely sliced fresh basil is great too.

So pop your own popcorn at home. It'll save you a bundle over either the popped and packaged or the microwave variety, and you won't get popcorn lung. Enjoy.

20 comments:

Claire said...

I LOVE popcorn. We do the air pop version, though we can't grow our own corn. I love it, my kids love it, my husband loves it...and I love how inexpensive it is! Such a nutritious, filling snack...

Kate said...

Hi, Claire. Yes, it is filling. I suppose it could be considered nutritious. We're pretty liberal with the salt and butter, so I won't go so far as to claim ours is actually good for us. Sure is satisfying though!

Kathleen said...

Popcorn is my number one snack! I too cook it stove top in oil and one thing I have found is that if I lift the top a bit during the popping to let the steam out it comes out nice and crispy and yes you are so right about the medium heat. I am amazed that people pay so much for crummy microwave when you can get it organic and fresh in bulk. I don't even have a micro wave and don't want one either. As far as health - it is excellent fiber and that is good for you. Also I use only a small amount of butter and I drizzle it very slowly onto the popcorn while I'm tossing it with a spoon. That way every kernel gets just a little butter and that is perfect with some spices - Parmesan cheese or whatever you like! yum

Kathi said...

I read a fantastic recipe for popping your own corn that you might be interested in. You pop it in olive oil, and add 3-4 crushed garlic cloves and 1-2 hot chili peppers, roughly chopped, to the oil and let it steep over low heat to get the oil flavoured. Then you strain the solids out of the oil and put it back in the pan and use the oil to pop the popcorn. It is AMAZING! Since I tried it I've started to put garlic in my popping oil all the time ... I've given it to people and they love the popcorn, but can't tell what the taste is. It almost just tastes more buttery or something. Also I keep a jar of garlic confit in the fridge and sometimes just use some of that oil to add to the popping oil. (Garlic confit: take about a head of garlic and peel all of the cloves and poach them in olive oil to cover. This will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks or more and the cloves AND the oil are great in just about anything ...)(except, as my husband keeps insisting, on ice cream, which he feels is just wrong)

Kate said...

Thanks for the suggestions, Kathi. Sounds super-yum! I'm a garlic fiend.

Chiot's Run said...

We love popcorn too, it's actually q very healthy snack, even with the butter & oil.

We usually pop ours in ghee (gives it a delicious buttery taste) or in coconut oil. Making kettle corn is also super easy and delicious. Simply sprinkle a tablespoon or two of sugar when you hear the first kernel pop (depending how sweet you want it, we usually use 2 T Mr Chiots prefers 3 T).

Kate said...

CR, I've always wondered whether kettle corn was that simple. I like my popcorn savory, not sweet, but thanks for sharing the trick. I'll remember it if I ever find an occasion to make it.

henbogle said...

Don't know how I missed this post. I too make stovetop popcorn. It is ridiculously easy,and never greasy, just yummily buttery. I will try the ancho, I often sprinkle mine with w little Penzey's chili powder. Yum! Somewhere I ready recently about peanut butter popcorn, but I'm saving that as a SURPRISE for Dan as we've been calorie counting lately.

Anonymous said...

Our favorite popcorn topping is nutritional yeast. My daughters love it!

Rebecca said...

I have fond memories of our first foray into popping corn on the stove this way. We used a too small pot and too much popcorn. It was like something out of a kids book: popcorn overflowing onto the floor, dodging flying kernels, my husband and I rolling on the floor desperately trying to stifle our laughter so we don't wake up the kids. So great!

Kate said...

Anon, I've never tried nutritional yeast at all. You've piqued my curiosity though.

Rebecca, that image is a riot! Thanks for making me smile this morning.

susan said so said...

Wow. Reading this post reminded me how fun, simple, delicious, and inexpensive stove-top popcorn is. We used to have a bowl of popcorn every night when my kids were little, and when they got older it became a favorite after-school snack, topped with nutritional yeast and a dash of seasoned salt.

Somehow I got away from "DIY' popcorn, and have been eating only microwave for years now. Thanks for the reminder of a favorite simple pleasure I'd forgotten!

Kate said...

SSS, you're the second person to mention nutritional yeast on popcorn. I guess I'm really going to have to try this sometime soon. Thanks for stopping by!

Lily Girl said...

I'm a die-hard Lawry's seasoned salt girl when it comes to my kernels. Popcorn, a little good aged cheese and some fresh fruit is one of my favorite dinners!

(And do try nutritional yeast, I love it even if I don't use it on popcorn.)

susan said so said...

I did it! Last night - inspired by this post - I made stove-top popcorn for the first time in years, and everything about it was good: the fragrance, the satisfying ping, ping, ping of the first few dozen kernels popping, then the staccato crescendo as they filled the pan... and of course, it was DELICIOUS! I popped it in olive oil, then tossed it with coarse sea salt and a little curry powder.

Thanks again for the reminder. : )

xox,
Susan

confessionsofasineater.blogspot.com

secret word: witanti

Kate said...

Susan, glad to hear it turned out well for you. Sunday night is a perfect time for a bowl of popcorn. Thanks for sharing your secret word. Am I supposed to do something with it?

susan said so said...

Katy,

you're the first person to ask about the secret word! It's the random "word verification" I have to enter to prove I'm not a robot or spider or whatever in order to submit a comment. For some reason I can't explain, the nonsense words amuse me, so I decided to start adding them to all my comments. This time it's "sessess."

: )

xox,
Susan

confessionsofasineater.blogspot.com

Kate said...

Susan, the most memorable one I ever got was "omfgz." That made me laugh. I'm so easily amused.

http://digginginthedriftless.wordpress.com said...

I just tried a new way to pop corn on the cob. We got some in our food share with the suggestion that we put a cob in a paper bag, put it in the microwave and let 'er rip.
It turned out to be some of the fluffiest, hull-free corn I ever ate. A few kernels popped but stayed on the cob. That meant eating popped corn on the cob, which was novel.
I love your blog.

Kate said...

Digging, I've heard tell of that method before, but it seemed possible that it was urban legend. Thanks for confirming it. I may have to try it.