With the advent of the microwave, it seems old-fashioned stovetop popcorn popping has become a lost art. Potential health risks and the enviromental waste of microwave popcorn aside, old-fashioned popcorn just plain tastes superior. It’s easy and lots of fun to make too. Best of all, popping your own corn means you can experiment with all of the fantastic heirloom popcorn varieties now available. Eat it plain, drizzle with olive oil or butter, or dress it up with spices — the possibilities are endless!
Tip: Use a neutral oil with a relatively high smoke point, such as refined canola oil or grapeseed oil.
Add the oil and popcorn kernels to a heavy 3- to 4-quart saucepan with a lid. Shake the pan to coat the kernels with oil. The kernels should cover the bottom of the pan in a single layer.
Cover the pan and place it over medium high heat, shaking the pan occasionally untiil you begin to hear popping.
When the corn begins to pop, lift it slightly from the heat and shake the pan continually, holding the lid in place, until the popping begins to slow, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat. Leave the lid on for 1 minute — some kernels will continue to pop. When the popping stops, pour the popcorn into a large bowl.
Enjoy plain, or season as desired with olive oil, butter, salt, or spices.
Making popcorn from scratch can be tricky. Not only do you want as many kernels as possible to pop, but you also want to keep the kernels from burning at the bottom of the pan. Until my mother showed me her way of cooking popcorn, I usually took the easy way out and used (gasp!) microwave popcorn, which by the way, is not that good for you.
Mom’s method of making popcorn not only pops almost every kernel, it also prevents the kernels from burning. She took it off of a Jiffy Popcorn box, she thinks. Here’s how it goes:
1 Heat the oil in a 3-quart saucepan on medium high heat.
2 Put 3 or 4 popcorn kernels into the oil and cover the pan.
3 When the kernels pop, add the rest of the 1/3 cup of popcorn kernels in an even layer. Cover, remove from heat and count 30 seconds. (Count out loud; it’s fun to do with kids.) This method first heats the oil to the right temperature, then waiting 30 seconds brings all of the other kernels to a near-popping temperature so that when they are put back on the heat, they all pop at about the same time.
4 Return the pan to the heat. The popcorn should begin popping soon, and all at once. Once the popping starts in earnest, gently shake the pan by moving it back and forth over the burner. Try to keep the lid slightly ajar to let the steam from the popcorn release (the popcorn will be drier and crisper). Once the popping slows to several seconds between pops, remove the pan from the heat, remove the lid, and dump the popcorn immediately into a wide bowl.
With this technique, nearly all of the kernels pop (I counted 4 unpopped kernels in my last batch), and nothing burns.
5 If you are adding butter, you can easily melt it by placing the butter in the now empty, but hot pan.
6 Salt to taste.
a If you add salt to the oil in the pan before popping, when the popcorn pops, the salt will be well distributed throughout the popcorn.
b Fun toppings for the popcorn – Spanish smoked paprika, nutritional yeast, cayenne powder, chili pepper, curry powder, cumin, grated Parmesan cheese.
Yield: Makes 2 quarts, a nice amount for two people, or for one hungry one.