Friday, February 8, 2008

How to Make Old-Fashioned, Oil-Popped Popcorn Properly

After four children and a dozen grandchildren I can honestly say that I have watched every Disney, Pixar, Anne of Green Gables movie ever made . . . many times. Most of them with popcorn. The truth is I volunteered to make the popcorn so that the movie could start and run a while without me. The third viewing of Love Bug in as many weeks is killer.

There's more science to making popcorn than you might think, the kernels need to explode quickly to get that airy and crackly center. After 30 years I consider myself a master.

First, start with a decent quality popcorn. It doesn't have to be a gourmet brand but a good Tom Thumb or Target brand is better than the dollar a bag brand. Next, get a good thick-bottomed pot with a handle. I use normal cooking oil but special popcorn oil supposedly works better. Good idea, I just never do it.

Get the pot warm first and add a 1/4 inch of oil to cover the bottom of the pot. When the oil is hot carefully pour in a layer of kernels to very loosely cover the bottom. Here's the hard part. To get the popcorn done just right you need the kernels hot enough to pop quickly, but not too hot so that they get a kind of of charred taste. I wish I could tell you how to do this but I can't. You just have to do it. One thing you don't want to do is put the kernels in cold oil and slow cook them. They lose too much moisture that way and pop small and dry.

Another tricky part. I use a pot with a lid and as the kernels start to pop I hold the lid just about an 1/8 of an inch off the edge to allow some of the steam to escape. If you don't that steam will soften the popped corn. This is tricky because a little hot oil escapes with the steam. I should say that this is black-belt level popcorning, amateurs should not attempt.

Final tip. After you get a good pop, shake the pot while it is still on the fire. You don't want the kernels to char and you want the unpopped kernels to fall back to the bottom. When the pot is almost filled pull it off the fire, lid on, and let the final kernels pop.

Here is where I try to guess when the last kernel has popped. It gives me something to think about while I wait and it kills a little more time. After the last kernel pops --

Pour into big bowl. Butter, then salt. Fall asleep watching movie.

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