Popping the perfect popcorn takes patience, proficiency
Burnt buds and “old maids” be gone.
Although popcorn is easy to make, snackers who pop the kernels over an open fire, stovetop or with an electric popper sometimes wind up with batches that are less than perfect.
“Don’t put salt in the oil to get a salty flavoring,” said Wendy Boersema Rappel, spokeswoman for The Popcorn Board, Chicago-based trade group for U.S. popcorn processors. “It can make the popcorn tough.”
She also suggests cracking the pan lid occasionally while popping to release steam.
“Each kernel contains steam that escapes when it pops. If you don’t let the steam out of the pan, the popcorn can be tough.”
If you’re making microwave popcorn, follow instructions on the package or air-popper. If you’re using a pan and oil, here are a few rules to insure you end up with the ultimate batch of the fluffy white stuff:
- Don’t pop popcorn in butter. Butter will burn.
- Before starting, warm the popper, pan or skillet.
- Add 1/4 cup cooking oil to the pan. Allow the oil to heat. The ideal popping temperature is 400 to 460 degrees. If the oil starts to smoke, it’s too hot.
- Test the heat of the oil by dropping in a kernel or two. When the kernel pops or spins in the oil, it’s time to add the remaining popcorn.
- Pour in just enough kernels to cover the bottom of the pan. Shake the pan so the oil coats each kernel.
“As you’re popping, you’ll hear a crest, a crescendo. When it starts to slow down, move it off the heat. When you hear a couple of seconds between popping, it’s done,” said Boersema Rappel.
“Old maids” are kernels that don’t pop because they don’t have sufficient water inside to create the buildup of pressure needed to explode the kernels. (Ideally, popcorn should contain between 13.5 percent to 14 percent moisture.)
If you have a lot of old maids, or your popcorn isn’t fluffy and crunchy, it may have lost some moisture.
To rejuvenate old popcorn, fill a quart jar three-quarters full with kernels. Add a tablespoon of water. Cover and shake every five to 10 minutes until all the water is absorbed. Store in a cool, dry place. In two to four days, it should be ready for popping. If a test-batch still produces a bunch of old maids, add a few more drops of water, shake the jar and let it sit a few more days.
Making popcorn in a plain brown or white bag in a microwave, by the way, is not recommended.
“It could catch fire,” said Boersema Rappel. She added that paper bags are sometimes made from recycled papers of unknown materials that might not be food-safe.
Americans eat 17 billion quarts of popped popcorn each year, and the average American consumes 54 quarts. Indiana is the nation’s No. 1 popcorn-growing state and Illinois ranks fourth. The top five in popcorn production:
Indiana (273 million pounds)
Nebraska (258 million pounds)
Ohio (125 million pounds)
Illinois (105 million pounds)
Iowa (71 million pounds).
What to do with all that corn? Here are some ideas from www.popcorn.org.
Crunchy Popcorn Trail Mix
5 cups popped popcorn
3 cups whole-grain oat cereal
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup peanuts (or other nuts)
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine
6 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
Stir together popcorn, cereal, raisins, nuts and seeds in large microwavable bowl; set aside. Combine butter, brown sugar and corn syrup in small saucepan. Heat until boiling; cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour over popcorn mixture, stirring to coat evenly.
Microwave 3-4 minutes, stirring and scraping bowl after each minute. Spread onto greased cookie sheet; cool. Break into pieces and store in airtight container.
Makes 9 servings.
Per serving: 230 calories, 4 g protein, 27 g carbohydrate, 13 g fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 180 mg sodium.
Savory Popcorn de Provence
8 cups popped popcorn
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 tablespoons herbs de Provence (a blend of dried marjoram, thyme, summer savory, basil, rosemary, sage, and fennel)
Melt butter in small saucepan; add garlic and cook 1 minute. Stir in herbs de Provence. Place popcorn in large bowl. Toss flavored butter mixture over popcorn; serve immediately.
Makes 8 servings.
Per serving: 110 calories, 1 g protein, 7 g carbohydrate, 9 g fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber, 40 mg sodium.
2 quarts popcorn popped in oil
2 teaspoons ground chili powder
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Keep popped popcorn warm. Mix seasonings together and toss with popcorn. Add cheese and mix thoroughly.
Makes 2 quarts.
Per 3-cup serving: 90 calories, 4 g protein, 17 g carbohydrate, 2 g fat, 2 g fiber, 40 mg sodium.
Caramel Almond Popcorn Clusters
10 cups freshly popped popcorn
2 cups whole almonds
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Spray 15-by-10-inch baking sheet with nonstick spray. Mix popcorn and almonds in large bowl. Combine brown sugar, butter and corn syrup in medium saucepan. Over low heat, stir mixture until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and boil 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla, almond extract and baking soda.
Pour over popcorn and almonds, immediately stirring gently to coat. Pour mixture onto prepared baking sheet, spreading evenly.
Bake for 1 hour in preheated oven. Cool completely. Break into pieces and store in airtight container.
Makes about 20 pieces.
Per piece: 210 calories, 3 g protein, 19 g carbohydrate, 14 g fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber, 120 mg sodium.
Kathryn Rem can be reached at email@example.com.