Way back in prehistory, we–that is, The Wife and I–decided that our love of popcorn needed to be treated more seriously, so we took our leave of the microwave popcorn that had been our main means of popcorn consumption for years and years. So it was that a little more than 12 years ago, we bought a corn popper and returned to the popcorn recipe of yore: corn, oil, salt, and butter. And it was good!
Until last year when the bowl for our popper broke. It had been sporting a crack for a while, a crack which slowly lengthened until it rendered the bowl unusable. We looked online for a replacement bowl, and while we did find them, they were almost the cost of a new popper. Now, a new popper wouldn’t really cost much at all–around $30 or $40, probably–but at this point I got even more analogue in my approach to popcorn. Why get a big unitasker appliance for something I could make using stuff I already owned?
For this attitude, I blame Alton Brown. Here he is, demonstrating his popcorn method in a video he made at the beginning of the pandemic. (Aside: I loved the “Pantry Raid” videos he made in 2020 and I wish he’d do more. Brown seems to tire quickly of specific formats and projects, though.) I’ve basically adapted Brown’s method to my needs, using not a steel mixing bowl but my wok.
I put in a few tablespoons of peanut oil, and then three-quarters of a cup of corn…
Then, on goes the lid and I give the whole works a shake or two every little bit or so, maybe twenty or thirty seconds. (Oh, medium heat.) Gradually the heat builds up and the popping starts!
(Those last two images are videos. I haven’t figured out how to embed video content from Flickr yet, so bear with me.)
The wok’s shape does the same thing as Mr. Brown’s mixing bowl: as the corn pops the popped pieces move off to the sides, while the heat concentrates on the kernels at the bottom. Brown would probably say that this method doesn’t allow enough steam to escape from the wok during popping, but I’ve honestly never really seen steam as an impediment to yummy popcorn.
Unlike Brown, who doesn’t like adding fat at the end of the popping process, I am a big fan of melted butter. I probably put too much butter on the popcorn, but…nah. “Too much butter” does not compute. Add a few generous shakes of sea salt (in his Good Eats episode on popcorn, the method of which the newer video is a refinement, Brown says at one point, “Few things you can put in your mouth are more disappointing than saltless popcorn”), and we’re ready for snacking!
Mr. Brown likes to put the salt in with the corn during popping, which I have tried, but I’ve never been in love with the results, so I don’t do this. I also haven’t tried his sprinkle-on seasonings like nutritional yeast, furikake, or sprinkly cheese. I do want to try popping the corn in ghee, because I’m curious about the result. I’ve never done anything with ghee before, though. I’ve also popped corn in coconut oil, and that does lend a bit of decadent mouthfeel to the proceedings.
If you’re wondering what kind of popcorn I use, I’m not brand-loyal, in all honesty. I’ll buy the store brand, or Jolly-Time. I also like to get different varieties from the local farmers markets, though those kinds of popcorn can be a bit more temperamental in the popping, resulting in more unpopped kernels and smaller popcorn bits.