Popcorn is the best snack food around, hands down. There are endless combinations of toppings you can add to keep it interesting, and depending on how you cook it, it’s can be rather nutritious! Today, I’m going to share with you the MAGIC, the MYSTERY, and MASTERY of cooking popcorn on the stovetop. Never again will you sit in front of the TV with those microwavable bags, oozing things like “transfats”, “carcinogens”, and probably “gluten”*. Nope, it’s time to learn to do it the old-fashioned way: make stovetop popcorn in your own kitchen.
First, let’s learn a little about where popcorn comes from. Some people believe that popcorn is just dried corn on the cob, but that’s not the case. It’s a different species than the soft corn we eat, though popcorn plants do look similar, sprouting ears covered in kernels. Many different types of popcorn are cultivated, producing purple, red, or even multi-colored kernels.** The most common colors you will see in the grocery store, however, are white or yellow.
Yellow kernels produce larger, fluffier popped corn. White kernels produce smaller, more dense popped corn. Both types have comparable nutrient levels and are an excellent low-calorie snack (if you forgo too much butter). The major difference between these types, for our educational purposes, is that yellow kernels produce slightly more popcorn by volume. That’s why it’s used in movie theaters, at carnivals, and baseball games. On the scale those concession stands sell popcorn, yellow kernels are a big money-saver.
Below is my recipe for cooking the best stovetop popcorn:
Makes a large bowl for sharing amongst 2-3 people
- 1/3 cup of kernels- any type
- 1 and 1/2 tbsp of fat like oil, or butter
- Have a large bowl for serving the popcorn at hand. In a large pot with a lid, heat the oil or butter over medium-high heat. Note that butter and canola oil have much higher smoke points that olive oil, meaning they are in fact better suited to making popcorn. After about 1 minute, add the popcorn and cover.***
- Turn the heat down a smidge, and wait. Once the kernels begin popping, shake the pot around while keeping it on the heating source. Continue shaking periodically while the kernels pop.
- After about two minutes, begin counting the time between pops. Once three seconds lapse between kernels popping, remove from the stovetop and immediately pour into the large bowl.
Once you’ve got a heaping bowl of popcorn, the fun really begins! The flavor toppings are endless and entirely subjective- and a good opportunity to get creative. My favorites are:
- Butter (which you can melt with residual heat in the pot you’ve cooked the popcorn in, once it’s emptied), salt
- Grated parmesan, salt, black pepper, olive oil
- Garlic salt, dill, olive oil
- butter and pickled jalapenos (yes, it’s weird but it tastes awesome)
- As an ingredient, on top of ice cream (bonus if it’s salted caramel ice cream)
Popcorn is wonderfully inexpensive, and you can feed a crowd on the cheap, and quickly too. Since you’ve indulged me thus far learning about my favorite snack, I’ll let you in on a little secret: try cooking your poocorn in reserved bacon fat, adding just a bit of salt and pepper at the end. Don’t be surprised if it disappears quicker than you can imagine! I have found people can inhale heaping bowls of the stuff in mere minutes.
*Just kidding but also not really, popcorn is gluten-free, even the microwavable kind.
**Special announcement: regardless what color the kernel is, the popcorn will be very close to white when you cook it. Don’t go promising kiddos pink popcorn, for they will be disappointed.
***If you are looking to make kettle corn, add about 1/4 cup of white sugar at this point as well, and top with just salt at the end.