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Craving Popcorn

April 2, 2019

Cravings happen.

Sometimes thoughts of specific foods will get in your head, and they won’t come out until you’ve gorged yourself senseless on whatever craving needs to be satisfied. For me, right now, that’s popcorn. But not just any popcorn.

As I obsess over my ideal version of popcorn, let’s take this moment to talk about popcorn in general. Because popcorn comes in all kinds of forms. And while all of them are loved by many, there is one that I love most of all.

It’s not the one I buy the most often.

Should you bump into me at Whole Foods, there’s a good chance I’ll have a bag of their reduced fat and sodium organic popcorn in my basket. Maybe two. We always keep this around the house for Mrs. Fussy. It’s one of her low calorie snacks, although she’ll often cover her small bowl of the stuff with a healthy shaking of some Penzeys cheese sprinkle.

It’s not the one that’s ubiquitous in our modern age.

Microwave popcorn is a scourge. It’s a blight. Maybe it has finally gone the way of the dinosaurs. It’s hard for me to tell, since it has been over a decade since I’ve had an office job. But even before I left the workplace, there had been offices which were banning popcorn from kitchen microwaves. Largely this was because the smell of scorched or burning microwave popcorn was so sick and putrid. But even the smell of well made microwave popcorn fills me with disgust and dread. Please, just don’t.

It’s not the greasiest, most expense, popcorn in the known universe.

Movie theaters may have helped make popcorn famous, but I have no love for their popcorn shenanigans. There are all kinds of tricks to make the popcorn smell more delicious and desirable to those in the theater lobby. And they largely involve the addition of ingredients to the popping oil. Even if you find a movie theater that uses real butter instead of butter flavored goo to squirt all over your snack, and even if the concession attendant is adept at distributing the fat throughout the popped kernels, it’s still not as flavorful as it could be. The bottom line is that all butter isn’t created equal, and even the theaters that use the “good stuff” don’t actually use the really good stuff.

It’s not the popcorn you can only get in Chicago.

Okay, Garrett’s popcorn is amazing. When you combine together the sticky caramel and the dye-your-hands-orange powdered cheese, you’ve got something worth raving about. That said, the 1/2 and 1/2 bag isn’t quite the optimal ratio for my tastes. One of these days I hope to return to Chicago and see if I can get them to mix me up a 1/3 caramel to 2/3 cheese bag. But even still, this gourmet flavored popcorn is heavy stuff. A small bag is more than enough, and usually when I want to eat popcorn, I want to eat a lot of it.

It’s not the truly gourmet popcorn.

At some fancy food event in San Francisco, I had freshly popped corn tossed with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, black truffles, a little fresh rosemary, and fresh cracked pepper. That was a game changer. I’ve had less fancy versions of chef made popcorn in other nice restaurants, and it’s fine, but it always feels more than a little gimmicky.

It’s not the retro popcorn for a taste of childhood.

This could actually go two ways. Because my first memories of popcorn as a kid involved shaking a container of Jiffy Pop over the stove and watching the foil lid expand into a magical sphere filled with popcorn. As a small child, it was awesome. As an adult, maybe not so much. The other popcorn of my youth involved one of those hot air poppers from the 1980s. If memory serves, we got it with S&H Green Stamps. I have very fond memories of making bowls of popcorn, all by myself, and dousing it with melted butter from the butter warming drawer in the back of the machine. But these days, we try to stay away from single use appliances.

Nope. The popcorn of my deepest desires is something just for me.

It starts with corn kernels popped on the stovetop in good, clean oil. I use expeller pressed safflower oil. Just enough to cover the bottom of a heavy stainless steel pot. And I put three kernels in to bottom of the cold pan, cover it with a lid, and place the pan on medium-high heat. Once I hear three pops, I know the oil is hot enough for the task ahead, so I pour in enough kernels to cover the bottom of the pan, or maybe even a bit fewer if I’m not that hungry. The lid goes back on, just barely ajar, so that steam has a place to escape. I vigorously shake the pan a few times during the cooking, and when the popping stops, I dump out the contents in a warm mixing bowl.

Then the hot popcorn is drizzled with a fruity and assertive olive oil. Generally, that is the Trader Joe’s California Estate olive oil. Why oil and not butter? A few reasons. One is cholesterol, but that’s just what got me started on the olive oil kick. The reasons I stick with olive oil is that it’s simply more aromatic and flavorful than butter. But it also has a better viscosity, especially as the popcorn cools. Butter gets greasy. Olive oil stays light.

The oiled popcorn is then topped with a combination of kosher salt and nutritional yeast flakes. I was introduced to nutritional yeast on popcorn at the Red Vic Movie House in San Francisco. It’s deliciously funky, almost kind of like powdered cheese, but more multi-dimensional in flavor. These toppings are tossed into the popcorn, which then gets another slug of olive oil, and a fresh round of toppings. Toss, repeat, and taste.

At this point, all the light, crisp, and puffy kernels are covered with oil, salt, and yeast. And I’ve got a great big bowl of deliciousness to shove in my pie hole. Although I’m likely sharing it with Little Miss Fussy in front of the TV for an afternoon snack. I’ve passed my love for this popcorn technique on to the next generation, and in the process I have ruined her for both movie theater and microwave popcorn.

Maybe today I’ll treat myself to a popcorn lunch. But if not, I’m going to need some soon. Otherwise I’m never going to be able to get these popcorn desires out of my head.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Benjamin M. permalink
    April 2, 2019 12:09 pm

    I have a rotating dome popcorn maker and love it. It makes a ton (4-8 cups at a time), uses very little oil, only takes a couple of minutes, provides a visual miniature fireworks show under the dome, is easy to clean, and cost me all of $5 at a garage sale.

  2. Jenny permalink
    April 2, 2019 12:15 pm

    One of the things that I’m proud of as a parent is the fact that despite the fact that my 15 year son has a limited cooking repertoire (kraft mac & cheese, pancakes, grilled cheese and anything made in the microwave), he confidently, and without ever asking for instructions (or, at this point, permission), makes himself popcorn on the stovetop in a dutch oven.

  3. Dave permalink
    April 2, 2019 1:11 pm

    For a flashback local memory from the mid to late 80s… Does anyone remember the place in Northway Mall that just sold popcorn? Garishly colored and flavored stuff in big bags? Grape popcorn, tutti frutti popcorn, etc… Remember begging my mom for it as a kid.

    • Kerosena permalink
      April 5, 2019 11:08 am

      Yes, I remember begging for that popcorn too. Did you ever get to try it? I didn’t.

  4. April 2, 2019 2:22 pm

    The best popcorn maker I’ve ever had is a Whirlypop. I bought mine at a thrift store and several others for family from Aldi and Ollie’s. Just oil and popcorn, turn the handle until popping almost stops, done. Delicious!

  5. Dave permalink
    April 3, 2019 5:16 am

    Garretts popcorn is sold in various parts of the world but not around here?

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