Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Recipe tip: Stove top popcorn

When I was a little kid and someone asked me to name my favorite food, I would immediately say, "Popcorn." I had a limited palate and a major fear of the unknown. Now my palate is fairly broad and I eat almost anything, and my fear of the unknown has diminished at least slightly, but I still list popcorn as my favorite food. Popcorn is amazing because it is crunchy and salty, and I am more of a salt girl than a sweet girl. Also, popcorn presents nearly endless possibilities. But no matter how many different types of popcorn I sample, I always come back to my favorite: homemade stove-top popcorn.

How do you make popcorn on the stove, you ask? It's easy, I tell you! Here we go, step by step.

1) Get out your popcorn pan. I use the same one all the time, and this pan is now solely reserved for popcorn popping. (This is a little trick that comes from my friend Martha's family. When we were new teachers, Martha would bring a bag of popcorn from home for everyone to share at our teacher lunches, and the popcorn was so good because the pan she used was well-seasoned from many years of popcorn popping.)

2) Now take your oil and coat the bottom of the pan with just enough oil to thinly cover the surface. Really, you don't need that much to make it pop, and the less you use, the healthier your finished dish will be. I typically use canola oil, the healthier choice over vegetable oil, and then I found this little gem:
Yes, that's popcorn oil, which is really just peanut oil with a fancy label, courtesy of Williams Sonoma. I didn't buy it; Matt bought it at his school's International Night silent auction as part of a popcorn gift basket. This is how I know my husband loves me: he buys me special popcorn items, the key to my heart. The downside to this peanut oil is that it is slightly less healthy than the canola oil (one serving has 2.5 grams of saturated fat to canola oil's 1 gram) and it doesn't evenly pop every last kernel, but the upside is that it leads to some pretty freakin' awesome popcorn.

3) Put just enough kernels in the pan to cover the bottom, but no more. If you use this amount, regardless of the size of your pan, your popped corn should fit inside the pan without overflowing. (Side note: I realize some popcorn people out there prefer to heat the oil first before adding the kernels. That works too; I just get a little fidgety around hot oil, so I prefer to have my kernels in place before the oil is sizzlin'.)

Yes, of course I store my kernels in a special popcorn container, retro find courtesy of Matt's parents.

4) Heat the popcorn on medium-high heat. We have a gas stove, but the same rule has applied on electric stoves I've used in the past. Don't forget your lid!

5) It should take about 2-3 minutes for your corn to pop (same as the microwave!). When the kernels stop their rapid-fire popping, listen for the time when it's a couple seconds between pops. Your popcorn is done! Presto! Remove from the heat immediately and into a big bowl.

If you're a popcorn purist you can stop here, but I prefer to dress my kernels up a bit. So, I:

6) Take a couple pats of butter and put them in the now-empty-but-still-hot pan. Without turning the heat back on, the butter melts in a matter of seconds and gets a little brown for added flavor. After you pour your butter over your popcorn, give the bowl a few strong shakes to coat the popcorn as evenly as possible.
7) ADD SALT! I am a salt fiend. If it were socially acceptable, I would just eat salt straight out of the shaker, but to comply with social norms I choose to use other foods as my salt-consumption mediums. (This past fall my brother and his wife took Matt and me to an awesome charity benefit in L.A. where one food booth featured a lady who loves salt even more than I do. She gave us foods to dip in different kinds of gourmet salt, so at least someone else out there has investigated other salt-delivery mechanisms. Check her stuff out at Saltistry.)

Many types of salt options would be perfect with popcorn, but I prefer table salt, garlic salt or onion salt. When I was eight years old my friend Amber introduced me to the idea of garlic salt on popcorn, and I've never turned back.

A few more thoughts about popcorn:
  • Don't microwave it. Popcorn is a pretty healthy(ish) snack, but microwave popcorn has some weird ingredients that aren't pleasant (or pleasant looking). Popping your own only involves a little more effort and only one more item to clean up. 
  • You can air pop it, but I prefer my popcorn after it's been through a little oil. Yes, air popped is good, but to me it's a little vanilla.
  • Besides homemade popcorn I love kettle corn. To make your own kettle corn (the easy way, without breaking out your cauldron) follow the instructions above, but when you add the oil also spread a couple tablespoons of sugar on top of the oil. Then when the corn starts to pop, you should constantly shake the pan from side to side to keep the kernels from sticking and burning. My favorite store-bought kettle corn is by Popcorn Indiana. I also love outdoor fairs and farmer's markets that almost always have someone with a kettle corn stand.
  • Another popcorn favorite is white cheddar cheese flavored. No, not the stuff Smartfood makes. Although that is the most popular of the white cheddar cheese varieties, it's also my least favorite. My most favorite is Utz Premium White Cheddar Cheese Popcorn (the package is outlined in gold, so you know it's got to be good). It's also nearly impossible to find at our local grocery stores, so Matt has been known to special order (yes, that's right) a box of 60 snack-sized packages for me directly from the factory as my birthday present. My birthday is August 16. These usually last until about August 20. I finally started hiding the individual packages from myself so I wouldn't eat them all in one sitting.
What am I forgetting? What awesome popcorn trends are out there that I don't even know about? Do tell!


  1. I'm so happy you posted this! I've been fiending for some "Martha-style" popcorn for years!

    And rock on, my one-serving-bag-is-never-enough buddy!!

  2. Very Cute Post Steph! I found a restaurant you and Matt will like a lot. Have you ever heard of Founding Farmers in foggy bottom? They serve all varieties of fresh popcorn (ranch, chocolate, etc.) as well as a lot of other great fresh from the local farm foods. The popcorn is amazing and only $2! Here is the link: www.wearefoundingfarmers.com

  3. I love the idea of garlic salt - I will have to try that! I would also recommend popcorn salt by Morton's. It is finer than table salt, so I think it sticks a bit better and results in even more salty-deliciousness (or maybe that is all in my head)!

  4. @Mimi: funny you mention Founding Farmers. We went there for Restaurant Week over a year ago. We had good drinks and good apps (including the popcorn you mentioned!) but we were not impressed with the entrees. And we even ordered on the regular menu for entrees, not the Restaurant Week menu. So, it's the kind of place I would love to go to before or after my actual meal.