Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Stovetop Popcorn

Microwave popcorn has been getting a bad rap lately. With good reason, too: it’s expensive, uses an excess of packaging, contains mystery chemicals, and invariably tastes like cardboard. One solution is to microwave plain kernels in a paper lunch sack. This eliminates the chemicals, but still creates garbage and tasteless food (i.e., more garbage). Another option is a hot air popper, which is great if you a) plan on eating 15 cups of popcorn in one sitting, b) have room to store a single-purpose appliance, and c) enjoy watching popcorn fly across your kitchen at random.

I don’t like any of these options. So I go the old-fashioned route: stovetop popping. Popping on the stovetop is easier than many people expect and—in my humble opinion—tastes a lot better.

This recipe is for a single serving, about 3½ to 4 cups. It can be scaled up as much as you want…just make sure your pot is big enough.

You will need:
a pot with a tight-fitting lid (heavy stainless steel is ideal, or cast iron in a pinch; DO NOT use non-stick, anodized aluminum, or Teflon)
2 tbsp plain popcorn kernels (any type will do)
1 to 4 tsp peanut oil*
pinch salt

Place ingredients in the pot and set over high heat. Shake the pot occasionally to coat the kernels in oil.

Once the first kernel pops (don’t worry, the first one or two won’t fly out of the pot), put the lid on and start shaking the pot frequently, every few seconds. Continue shaking until the popping stops, about 30 seconds. Immediately remove from heat.

Lift the lid slightly to allow steam to escape. Don’t pull the lid completely off right away because there is always that one kernel who is late to the party. Be careful! The pot is over 350°F (175°C)—a lot hotter than boiling water.

After waiting a few seconds for any stray pops, dump the popcorn into your serving bowl, dress with extra salt, butter, or whatever seasoning you want, and enjoy!

*Peanut oil gives the popcorn a rich flavor similar to theatre popcorn; we don’t even bother to add butter any more. Other cooking oils can be substituted: olive, corn, or untoasted sesame oil, for example. Coconut oil, butter, and flavoring oils (such as most other nut oils and toasted sesame oil) cannot be used because their smoke points are too low; popcorn pops at a little over 350°F and generally the oil will scorch before popping is finished.

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