Sunday, August 10, 2008
Posted by Kate at 7:04 AM
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.