Sunday, November 8, 2015

Pop Goes the Popcorn

Here's my October column from the Petaluma Post:

After school for the kids, a snack at your favorite game or snuggled down on the couch for a movie it’s time to have popcorn.  A funny story, hubby and I while trying to eat healthy, avoiding simple carbs and adding lots of whole grains to our diet, where debating if popcorn was really a good choice since is all carbs; were they good carbs or bad carbs; then the ‘duh’ moment passed as we both looked at each other realizing that popcorn is literally whole grain!

It is a healthy snack, although if you go over the top with toppings it could go the other way!  But 1 cup of air popped only has 31 calories, and only 54 in oil popped.  Toppings can run a huge range, but you really only need a light coating to add a lot of flavor.

What makes popcorn “pop”?  A dense starchy center expands to release moisture when heated until the outer hull breaks and the starch puffs.  Did you know you can also “pop” amaranth, quinoa and millet?  I would not suggest trying it, like corn there are many varieties and finding the one with the right combination would be difficult, but it would be an interesting experiment.

Popcorn came in to popular demand during the great depression, being inexpensive it replaced candy that was in short supply due to sugar rations. To this day the United States is the number one popcorn producer.  We even have a National Popcorn day on January 19th!

But what can you do with popcorn?  It is one of my favorite canvases, you can take almost any flavor in the world and create a custom popcorn.  I love it at home, and the catering company has seen it as trend over the past few years of people wanting special popcorn at events.  However we need to start at the kernel.  I will be upfront I prefer Orville Redenbacher.  I have popped many different brands and find theirs is the lightest and pops up the best, leaving the fewest old maids.  Those last kernels at the bottom of the pot that have not popper are called “old maids”. 

I’m always surprised that so few people pop their popcorn in a pot.  I see lots of microwaved popcorn and special popping devices, but just a little and kernels in a pot is so simple and I think a better product.  But I suppose the biggest question everyone has is how much unpopped to use?  You don’t want it overflowing everywhere!  The rule of thumb is a quarter cup of kernels will yield 2 quarts of popped, a good serving for 2 people.

Stovetop Popcorn
3 Tbl vegetable oil
¼ cup popcorn kernels
2 quart pot with lid

Place pot over medium high heat and add the oil.  Allow the oil to heat about 1 minute, then add 2 or 3 kernels of corn to test it.  Once they hit the oil they should begin to put off a string of little bubbles (steam escaping the kernel) this is when you add the rest of you popcorn and put the cover on.  Popping should begin in 2 to 4 minutes; be patient and leave the lid on.  Turn the heat down to medium and shake the pot gently until you hear fewer and fewer pops; I usually count 10 to 15 seconds between pops at the end.  Remove from heat, and crack the lid open to allow the steam to escape, then wait 3 to 4 more minutes for any last kernels to pop.

Now for the toppings!  I am a butter girl and honestly the more the better, per 2 quarts of popcorn I use 4 tablespoons of butter.  The surface of the popcorn is dry and you will need some fat to help your flavors to adhere.  I have also been known to spray the popcorn with cooking spray to help. Drizzle the oil or butter component over the popcorn, then toss the dry ingredients well.

Some of my favorite flavor combinations:

Truffle Oil with Grated Parmesan Cheese
3 Tbl Butter, melted
1 tsp to 1 Tbl Truffle oil (per your taste)
4 Tbl Parmesan cheese, grated
This produces a rich full flavored popcorn goes great with red wine.

Curry Parmesan Popcorn
4 Tbl melted butter
4 Tbl Parmesan cheese, grated
1 to 2 Tbl Curry powder
This is a spicy fun combination with a lot of zip.

Mexican Popcorn
3 Tbl Olive oil
4 Tbl Cotija Cheese, grated
1 lime zested
1 tsp to 1 Tbl Chili powder (per your taste)
Try a little cayenne if you like it spicy.

I won’t go into the sugary varieties, there are plenty of recipes out there on the internet for that, and they usually take a bit more time and prep.  Have fun, experiment with herbs and spices, the key is just to make sure they are finely ground.  Enjoy.

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