I’m a big fan of popcorn. I had my flirtation with microwave popcorn during college, but I went back to popping on the stove like mom and dad as soon as I had decent cookware. So I was pretty excited when my wife shared this recipe with me for “Perfect Popcorn”. It describes a stovetop technique involving bringing oil to temperature, adding kernels and removing from heat for 30 seconds before returning to the burner. The claim was that this will cause every kernel to pop at the same time, so you will pop every kernel without burning any.
Sunday I decided to give it a shot, and it pretty much failed for me. When I returned the pan to heat after waiting the 30 seconds, no popping ensued. After another 30 or 45 seconds, popping started slowly, then popped normally until it slowed, at which point I had about a normal number of unpopped kernels. The popcorn popped, but it really wasn’t much of an improvement over my normal technique.
I’ll tell you what matters, though: Ingredients. First, think about moving past Orville Redenbacher store bought kernels. About a year ago I purchased a sampler package from Crown Jewel Gourmet Popcorn. I bought the insane twelve pound sampler pack just over a year ago, and I’m about one pound from finishing it up. They haven’t all been winners, but the ones that were are worth the extra price. Some of my favorites include the small varieties. They’re small as kernels and they pop into tiny kernels of popcorn about half the diameter of what you see in the store bought varieties. It’s just kind of grab a handful of mini-popcorn. Of the small varieties, baby pearl was my favorite. In addition to the small size, it has a light hull, so you end up with fewer sharp pieces of hull.
The pocorns also varied in flavor. Of the varieties I tried, the fiery garnet had the deepest corn flavor. Other varieties came in different colors, but mainly it was hull coloration. When popped, almost all the popcorns popped white or slightly yellow, even the purple and red varieties.
Butter makes a big difference too. We normally keep unsalted butter around the house, but we make an exception for popcorn. Salted butter goes a long way to giving popcorn the saltiness you want. When we come across it, I buy a stick of Kerrygold‘s salted butter. It has a nice deep flavor that really stands out on popcorn. For salt, we use kosher salt. It has a bit of crunch to it and doesn’t have that off taste the iodized salt can sometimes have. I’ve tried rock salt with several different kinds of rasps, but just haven’t been able to get that to work.
Technique wise, there are a few tricks I’ve learned. I add oil to the pan, I would guess about four tablespoons, and add three or four kernels when I put the oil on heat. I don’t use full high heat, but pretty high. Once the kernels pop, I’ll add the popcorn. I like a lot, and when I make it I eat it with my wife, so I probably use about half a cup, enough to cover the bottom of the pan and almost start a second layer of kernels. Once the kernels start to pop, crack the lid to allow steam to escape. (I forget to do this a lot, and it really does make a difference.) Shake the popcorn every once in a while to keep the same kernels from contact with the bottom of the pan.
When popping a large amount of popcorn, even with shaking I’ll end up with some kernels burning and sticking to the bottom. This tends to happen once enough popcorn has popped that the kernels will no longer throw themselves out of the pan if you take the lid off. At this point, I’ll remove the lid and give the bottom a few stirs with a long metal spoon, then toss again. This will break any stuck popcorn free so it won’t burn too much more. Be sure to put the lid back afterwards to keep as much heat as possible in the pan. Once the rate of popping slows to a few seconds between pops, pour the whole thing into your popcorn bowl.
Buttering takes some time too. I’ll melt the butter in a measuring glass with a spout until there is just a bit of solid butter left. Then stir to smooth out the butter. It’s probably just my imagination, but I think it tastes better when it isn’t melted completely. Be careful when adding butter to the popcorn. If you add butter too quickly, you’ll have a few kernels absolutely saturated with butter and a bunch of dry kernels that you weren’t able to get any salt to stick to. I love my super wide metal bowl. It lets me toss the popcorn while I’m adding butter to make sure I get everything well distributed. Now drizzle the butter as slowly as you can pour from the spout, just going over the top layer. Sprinkle some salt and toss. Repeat until it tastes good.
Now enjoy your movie!