salt

Snobbery and the
True King Corn

Autumn is coming and with it: movies at home. And so, we thought it appropriate to republish this article on the perfect movie treat first seen here in 2009. Enjoy! 

No person can be highbrow in every arena of life and culture, even with the oldest old money in the world and the Gold Coastiest Gold Coast mansion in New York. There will be at least one aspect of life into which your tastes fall into the shunned and repulsed lowbrow designation – in food, TV, movies, theater, music, vacation spots, boats, art, cars, fashion, drink, books, comedy, sports, jewelry, or something else. But there will be something.

Many pretend to maintain the highest level of taste in every one of these, but they, too, fail. Because it’s impossible to dedicate the time and energy required to be an aficionado in all of these areas. Those who deny this reality are what we “bottom-feeders” call snobs.

I have occasionally been labeled a snob. I take exception to the term; I make no pretense toward the highest of highbrow tastes in everything. There are only a handful of cultural arenas in which I even begin to climb appreciation’s ladder: music, beer, art, and food in general – and specifically, popcorn.

How I adore popcorn. Tiny clouds of delight dancing on the tongue. Not a mere “snack” or other such trifle – popcorn is delicious. I don’t mean that popcorn can be described as delicious. I mean that it is delicious. It is the very essence of the word. To eat popcorn is to swim in deliciousness, to bed with delectability, to soar with scrumptiousness. Popcorn truly is delicious.

Sadly though, people everywhere have never dissolved themselves into a savory palm of perfectly popped, plump popcorn and had their cares and concerns whisked away in the whirlwind of fantastical flavors found in their fist.

It is for them that I here write.

Popcorn is deceptively simple. Husk-dried corn kernels containing a small amount of water that, when heated to boiling point, bursts as steam from the kernel’s hull, leaving behind the fluffy and delicate piece of popped corn.

Making popcorn requires nothing more than heat and kernels. Yet, unless the conditions for popping are just right, and the kernels both fresh and of good quality, you’ll end up with a handful of staleness. Not only can the popcorn be ruined simply in the making of it, but popcorn is also and most often ruined by the seasonings that suffocate the corn and terrify our taste buds.

One culprit is, of course, movie theater popcorn: over-salted, fake-buttered movie theater popcorn. I admit that from time to time I enjoy a bucket of popcorn with a motion picture, especially the good/bad action/adventure type. But (no thanks to the movies) all popcorn has been defined by this style, in some kind of synechdochic nightmare which we wake from to face that greatest affront to popcorn lovers everywhere: microwave popcorn.

Microwave popcorn – while edible – is to popcorn as Kraft Singles are to cheese: a mere shadow of what was intended to be.

Hope persists, though. You can make popcorn quickly and easily in your home that will leave your friends and family floating on a kernel cloud of euphoria they’ve never before experienced. And while I enjoy hyperbole, I hyperbolize not in this instance. Not once has a guest, even when pressed, admitted to preferring microwave popcorn, or even movie theater popcorn, to my corn concoction.

Let me teach you how to wow your friends and dazzle your enemies with popcorn fit for the Last Supper.

About Implements. Here is the most important thing I recommend to perfect your popcorn: the Whirley Pop. While I am not usually a fan of kitchen items that only do one thing, this item is special. The crank keeps the kernels from sticking and burning; the lid vents release steam as the water escapes its granular prison and keeps the corn light and fluffy. This piece of equipment is worth every penny.

(You can use a regular saucepan with a lid, but make sure to jostle the pan while cooking and keep the lid cracked to release the steam.)

That said, we need a recipe.

The two main ingredients when making popcorn are the kernels and the oil. Skimp on freshness and quality and you’ll be left with nothing more than an unsatisfying “snack.”

About Kernels. They come in dozens of varieties: yellow, red, blue, black, baby rice, hulless, white, and many variations of those. Part of the journey of a popcorn aficionado is to discover which varieties are palpably pleasing. The most important factor, as I have stated, is freshness. You can get good popcorn online. But it’s most fun to find a small, out-of-the way market where you can see the kernels and verify the freshness.

About Oil. Whatever your preference for general cooking, a mistake most people make when popping corn is to use vegetable oil. Flavorless, flaccid vegetable oil. The best oil for popping corn releases the corn’s flavors and doesn’t overpower them. I recommend sunflower, peanut, canola, or, as a last resort, olive oil – preferably a light olive oil.

About Making Popcorn. Since you likely don’t have a Whirley Pop yet, I’ll use general reference guides as to amounts. If you have a gas range you can begin by preparing the popper; if you have an electric range, preheat the burner to medium-high. Into the popper, pour the kernels one layer deep until the bottom of the pan is about 70-75% covered. Then add about 1-1.5 tablespoon of oil for every 1/4 cup kernels. (It is possible to use as little oil as 1 teaspoon per 1/4 cup of kernels, but that can sometimes yield popcorn that’s a little too dry for my taste.)

Place the pan on top of the preheated burner (or on the gas range and light the burner to about medium-high) with contents already loaded. If you are using the Whirley Pop, turn the crank until the stirrer cannot be easily turned and wait until there is at least 2-3 seconds between pops, then remove from heat. If you are cooking in a regular pan, continue to shake the pan until the until there is at least 2-3 seconds between pops, then remove from heat. Once off the heat, put the popcorn in a bowl big enough to allow you to shake the popcorn around a bit.

(Note: Do not wash the Whirley Pop; simply wipe it off with paper towel. If you are using a regular pan, you’ll have to wash it.)

About Seasoning. The other major faux pas in popcorn making is over seasoning. Before you add any seasoning, you must taste the popcorn. Let the taste of the popcorn help you determine the type and amount of seasoning that will enhance and enrich the flavor of the popcorn. If you want to taste nothing but salt and butter, why did you make popcorn? You could’ve stuck your face into a bowl of melted, salted butter.

For now, I’ll keep it basic. With a good popcorn recipe book, or a knack for creative flavor combining, you can concoct some extraordinary treats for special occasions – or no occasion.

I generally use one of two different kinds of salt for my popcorn: kosher, or garlic. Kosher salt is great for popcorn because the flat crystals stick to the popcorn and dissolve quickly. Their size makes it a little harder to over-salt.

For garlic lovers, garlic salt adds an extra dimension to the flavor profile of the popcorn, but is dangerous because the garlic and the salt together can quickly drown the popcorn’s natural flavor. But not just any garlic salt will do. The only garlic salt I use is Lawry’s Garlic Salt.It’s not too salty, not too garlicky, and the grains also dissolve on the popcorn well.

After you’ve tasted the corn, sprinkle a little seasoning on the popcorn and shake it up.Then taste again.If it needs more seasoning, sprinkle and shake.Repeat that process until the popcorn’s flavor bursts in your mouth. Then grab your favorite beverage and enjoy! (I recommend a good I.P.A.; the hoppy, fruity taste complements the slight saltiness of the popcorn.)

Oh, and I don’t add butter to my popcorn. Butter makes it soggy and fatty. Popcorn is actually a very healthy food, when you spare the dairy. Do your hips or gut a favor – or just do 300 ab crunches as penance.

About Storing. One of the auxilliary benefits of this approach to popcorn is its longevity. You can store the popcorn covered with foil for several days and it still packs a tasty punch. Some have even told me that it tastes better the second day.

So there you have it. Popcorn at its most simple, savory, and satisfying. It’s as timeless as corn can be in our age of victualage processing. I reckon after you get the hang of it you might start trying to sneak your own bag of delicious into the movies with you – you snob.

photo by: superiphi