Adventures of a Gastronome in Training (GIT)

One amateur foodie's quest for culinary enlightenment. Musings on cooking, dining, food products, basically all things edible are fair game.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Popcorn: the Secret Ingredient

I am a popcorn fiend – I love it. To Marty’s dismay, I still find myself reviving my college habit of popcorn for dinner when he’s out of town. But, I have to say for myself, I make a pretty good bowl. Actually, it’s one of my signature dishes (that may say something about my culinary skills). It’s such a simple pleasure, but I consistently get strong reactions from people when I serve it. Well, against my better judgement, I’ve decided to give my popcorn secrets away. So pay close attention to the following, and you won’t be disappointed.

1. Never, ever use microwave popcorn. I get that it’s a short-cut, but it’s only saving the approximately five minute prep time to make it on the stove where you get better texture and control of the flavoring.

2. Butter. Sure this is a pretty basic concept, but again the microwave imitation flavoring doesn’t stack up to the real deal. A slight improvement in taste, but perhaps the least healthy liquid one could chose to consume, is the imitation butter flavoring used in theatres across America. Comparatively, it should make you feel like a health nut pouring a couple tablespoons of butter on your bowl.

3. I tried out a lot of seasonings over the years - salt alone just doesn’t cut it for me. About eight years ago, I came across Johnny’s Popcorn Salt, and haven’t used anything else since. In fact, when we moved to Atlanta and stores didn’t carry it, I ordered it on the internet. I guess you could say, this is my secret ingredient. The somewhat alarming neon orange color doesn’t come through when it’s sprinkled on, but it does give the corn a certain pop that I haven’t found elsewhere.

The secret ingredient

Well, now you know my secrets, so all you need to do to get your own bowl going is:

½ Cup Popcorn Kernels
3 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
1-2 Tablespoons Butter
Johnny’s Popcorn Salt

Put two kernels in a saucepan with the vegetable oil, cover the pan, and place on high heat. After one of the kernels pops, add the remainder of the kernels (put the lid back on), and start gently shaking the pan over the heat. Once the popping slows down, remove from the heat and pour into a bowl. Add melted butter then salt to taste.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a huge popcorn fan as well and have been dying to share this article I read about popcorn and wine. Can you imagine? It's actually really good. Figuring you have popcorn dinner, why not complement it with a nice glass of wine, right?

The article was last month in the Arizona Republic - Mark Tarbell paired popcorn with Chardonnay. One of the wines he recommended was a new French wine named Red Bicyclette. The 2003 Chardonnay has a tight structure that complements popcorn fantastically. The flavor is crisp with a hint of butter on the finish. What's more is that this wine has a fun name and label to match. More of a fun, approachable wine than traditional, stuffy French wines. I did give it a try and have to say - perfect popcorn mate!

Thought you might like the suggestion.

Great blog! Look forward to reading more.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Steve Austin said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I realize this is an old blog entry, but I can't help but comment anyway.

I too am on the quest for perfect popcorn, and I've found some 'secrets' that might help you.

The 2 most important keys are:
1. The oil
2. The steam

For oil, there is only 1 choice; Coconut oil. No other oil does as well for popcorn. Not peanut, safflower, corn, gerneric vegetable (mostly soy)...I tried them all. Nothing else comes close. It can be difficult to find, but worth it. It is semi-solid at room temperature, in 'plain' form it is white, but if made just for popcorn may have added beta-carotene for color that makes it orange/yellow. I eventually found it in an international market. (In the India section of all places) You can also, of course, find sources on-line.

Steam is the most overlooked factor. You must realize that popcorn is steam powered! It is the pressure of steam trying to escape that pops the corn. Once it has exploded out of it's kernel, that steam has to go somewhere. If your lid doesn't have steam vents it can't escape and will toughen up your popcorn, making it gummier than it should be. The more vents, the better.

I also bought a box of Flavacol. This is the salt/seasoning that theaters use. Of course it is artificially flavored, so it may not be what you're looking for if you're going for a more natural taste. If that's the case, you can't beat real butter - or can you? Turns out you can - sort of. While you're in your nearest international market looking for coconut oil, look for a product called Ghee. It's just clarified butter, but sold in easy-to-use jars. You could do this yourself, of course, but Ghee makes it easy.

The lack of water and solids in Ghee helps it from making your popcorn soggy. It's more like the "butter" topping in theaters, but in this case it really is butter.

10:47 AM  
Blogger Terry said...

You know, my mom has taught me a way to make popcorn good even without Johnny's Popcorn Salt. Heres how it done:

Step 1:
Make sure you have a Presto PopLite popcorn maker. It uses pure heat. OK, pour in the kernels, and plug it in. It takes 2-3 minutes for it to finish.

Step 2:
While your waiting for your popcorn to pop, get a small pot and put 1 stick of butter in it, heat, watch to make sure it does not boil over. Stir occasionally, and you do not have to watch it all the time, just check every few seconds.

Step 3:
The kernels you put into your PopLite shall have popped. Start up another batch.

Step 4:
Your butter should be done. Turn the stove off, and take the pot off to the counter. Add salt.

Step 5:
You may have to wait a bit, but your popcorn should be done. Pour a little of your salt-butter on, stir. Repeat adding and stirring until you run out of your salt-butter.

Step 6:
Viola! Your done! Serve and dole out.

Notes: Once a batch of pop corn is done, unplug until you add another batch of kernels. The PopLite has a "tube" like thing that "directs" the popcorn to the pot. Use a minumim of salt, or, if you want something else, use SEASONED SALT. It is the very best. Or, if you wnat to get fat, Use Chicken boullion (the kind where you don't need to dissolve in water), or Beef boulluion, which I call CHICKEN SALT and BEEF SALT.

5:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try putting the butter in while it is still popping! When the popcorn is almost done popping and not hitting the lid anymore slide in a big pat of butter and keep shaking the pot. It will mix the butter to almost all the kernels.

11:06 AM  

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Jennie/Female. Lives in United States/Jennie Auster/New York, speaks English. Eye color is blue.