This week, I found two skinny ears of un-husked, dark yellow corn in my farm share. I didn’t recognize it as popcorn. It looked like the dried corn that I hung on my front door this fall. I pried the kernels off each ear, then popped them in hot canola and coconut oils. I dusted the popped corn liberally with salt, and presto: Popcorn made the old-fashioned way.
If you’re still eating microwave popcorn or some other popcorn-ish concoction made with unhealthy additives, please stop. Popcorn is one of the simplest things to make. It requires two ingredients — popcorn and oil — and one pan with a lid. And a burner or even an open fire.
There are a few tricks to making perfect popcorn. First, the popcorn must be relatively fresh. Don’t expect a bag of popcorn that’s been hidden in the dark recesses of your pantry for a year or two to pop well. It might, or it might not. Toss the old stuff, and buy a fresh batch.
Second, measure both the popcorn and the oil. That way you’ll get the correct proportions. Use 2/3 cup of popcorn and 1/3 cup of oil for a saucepan with a diameter of about 9.5 inches and a depth of at least 5.5 inches. The saucepan must have a tight-fitting lid for this to work. Adjust the amount of oil and popcorn to the size of the pan you are using. I use coconut and canola oils, but any clear oil will do. Do not use olive oil because it will burn.
Use just enough popcorn to cover the bottom of the pan in a single layer. A little space here and there is fine. Don’t overcrowd the kernels. The oil should almost cover the layer of popcorn.
Third, and this is the most important “trick”: Making popcorn requires your full attention, but only for about 5 minutes. Walk away, and the popcorn is toast, literally.
Here’s how you make it: Pour the oil into the pan, add 3-4 kernels of popcorn, turn the heat to medium-high, cover the pan, and stand nearby. In about 2-3 minutes, you should hear one of the kernels pop. Wait for the second kernel to pop, open the pan carefully (steam will escape), and pour in the rest of the popcorn. Put the cover back on and gently shake the pan back and forth on the burner once or twice to spread the kernels out on the bottom of the pan.
In about a minute, you’ll hear the kernels start to pop. At this point, gently shake the pan back and forth on the burner to keep the kernels from staying in one place in the hot bottom of the pan and burning. Soon, you’ll hear an explosion of popping, which will go on for another minute. Keep the pan moving back and forth very gently. No vigorous shaking, or the un-popped kernels won’t stay on the bottom of the pan.
This is the hard part: The popping will slow down, but you’ll hear a few pops every second or so. Keep moving the pan back and forth gently, but listen carefully. If more than a few seconds go by without a pop, remove the pan from the heat immediately. Don’t wait, or the popcorn will burn.
Uncover the pan (stand back because a lot of steam will escape), and pour the popcorn into a bowl to cool. If you’ve done it right, there will be few, if any, un-popped kernels at the bottom of the pan. (If your popcorn is very old and dried out, there may be a lot of un-popped kernels. Dump them in the trash.)
Embellish as You Wish
I usually dust popcorn with salt. I don’t like greasy popcorn, so don’t use butter. On occasion I sprinkle organic sugar and cinnamon on my popcorn, with a little salt. But adorn your perfectly popped popcorn as you wish. Toss it with melted dairy-free butter, dairy-free cheese or garlic powder, dried herbs, cocoa powder and organic sugar, anything that strikes your fancy and will stick to it without making the popcorn soggy.
Making popcorn the old-fashioned way takes about 10 minutes, and that includes washing the pan. Watch the popcorn carefully, and it will never burn. Once you’ve tried making popcorn this way, you’ll never go back to microwaving popcorn again.
How to Make Perfect Popcorn
Perfect popcorn requires popcorn, oil, a little salt, and five minutes of attention.
- 2/3 cup popcorn
- 1/3 cup oil (I use half canola and half coconut oil)
- Salt (to taste)
Set aside a serving bowl large enough to hold the popcorn.
In a large saucepan with a lid (about 9.5" in diameter and at least 5.5" high), place the oil and 3-4 kernels of popcorn.
Turn the heat to medium-high.
In about a minute or two, when you hear the first two kernels pop, open the pan carefully (steam will escape), and pour in the rest of the popcorn.
Gently move the pan back and forth on the burner to allow the kernels to spread out evenly on the bottom of the pan.
After about a minute, you'll hear the popcorn beginning to pop.
Shake the pan gently back and forth while the popcorn is popping. Do not stop moving the pan or the popcorn will burn. Do not turn down the heat.
In about another minute, the popping will slow down. You'll hear about one pop every second.
When a few seconds go by without any pops, quickly remove the popcorn from the heat.
Take off the lid carefully, and stand back to let the steam escape.
Pour the popcorn into a serving bowl to allow it to cool. If any un-popped kernels remain at the bottom of the pan, discard them in the trash.
As the popcorn is cooling, dust it with salt, and add any other ingredients you wish. Toss gently to combine.
Popped popcorn doesn't stay fresh longer than a day. If you have any left over, store it tightly covered, and eat it the next day.
My farm share included popcorn on the cob.
Scrape the kernels off the cob into a bowl. You’ll need about one cob full for this recipe (2/3 cup).
Fresh popcorn contains enough water content to pop well. Older popcorn may be too dry to pop.
You’ll need about 2/3 cup of popcorn, and 1/3 cup of oil. I use canola and coconut oils. You can use any clear oil, except olive oil, which may burn.
Pour the oil into the bottom of a deep saucepan with a lid.
Add 2-4 kernels of popcorn, cover, and turn the heat up to medium-high.
After you hear two kernels pop, pour in the rest of the popcorn. Cover, and shake the pan gently until the popping stops, in about 2-3 minutes.
If you do it right, there will be few if any un-popped kernels in the bottom of the pan. Pour the popcorn into a bowl, and allow it to cool.
While it’s cooling, toss the popcorn with salt, herbs, dairy-free-cheese, melted vegan butter, organic sugar and cocoa powder, the sky’s the limit!