While most of us have grown used to the convenience of microwave bagged popcorn, a couple of years ago I stopped buying it when I learned that most microwave popcorn bags are lined with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). That’s the toxic chemical and carcinogen that can be found in many nonstick skillets and pans– it’s approved food safe by the government, but the fumes from cooking on a PFOA skillet can kill a parrot standing nearby. This, in addition to the fact that most microwave popcorn brands contain partially hydrogenated oils, artificial colors and flavorings, and preservatives… well, let’s just say it’s not something I want to feed my family. Luckily, it’s super easy to make popcorn the old fashioned way, on the stovetop! All you need is a pot with a lid, a vegetable-based oil with a high smoke point, and… you guessed it… popcorn kernels.
According to John Russell Bartlett’s 1848 Dictionary of Americanisms, popcorn’s name was derived from “the noise it makes on bursting open.” When it comes to snack cravings, there is no sound more inviting than popcorn popping, especially on movie night.Can you imagine movies without popcorn? Surprisingly, theater owners were not on board with popcorn sales in the beginning. They thought it might create an unnecessary nuisance in addition to requiring expensive changes, like installing vents to rid the building of smoky popcorn odors. Hawkers, seeing the potential in popcorn sales, took matters into their own hands and began selling popcorn and Cracker Jack while walking up and down movie theater aisles. The Depression brought a shift in perspective for theater owners, who began to view popcorn as a small luxury that patrons could afford. Unlike most treats, popcorn sales actually rose during the Depression. Instead of installing indoor concession areas, theaters charged outside venders a dollar a day to sell popcorn from outdoor stands. In 1938 Glen W. Dickson, the owner of several theaters throughout the Midwest, began installing popcorn machines in the lobbies of his theaters. The construction changes were costly, but he recovered his investment quickly and his profits skyrocketed.
In my opinion, the best way to recreate the allure of movie theater popcorn is to pop it yourself, the old fashioned way, on the stovetop. This method lends itself to endless topping options. Trying to stay healthy? Pop it in grapeseed oil with a just a sprinkle of coarse sea salt. Feeling indulgent? Go for melted butter, cinnamon sugar and a drizzle of melted chocolate. Below I’ve listed suggested some topping ideas, but by all means be as creative as you like! What’s your favorite way to eat popcorn?
You will need
- 3-4 tbsp oil (more or less as needed), choose one with a high smoke point like grapeseed, coconut or peanut oil
- 1/4 cup popcorn kernels (or more if you like)
- large pot with a lid
Optional Topping Ingredients (choose one or combine toppings)
- 1/8 cup melted butter
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 cup parmesan cheese
- 1/8 cup melted chocolate
- 2 tsp cinnamon sugar mixture
- 2 tsp nutritional yeast (vegan- sorta kinda cheese flavored topping)
- Spices like smoked paprika, cumin, chili powder or others to taste
- Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. You’ll want to use enough oil to just cover the bottom of the pan, so adjust the amount according to the size of your pot. At this point, if you want to spice up your popcorn, you can also add some spices to the oil-- that way they will evenly coat the kernels as they pop! Other toppings should be reserved for later, including melted butter which can burn due to its low smoke point.
- You can test your oil by tossing in a few kernels and covering the pot. Once they pop, you’ll know your oil is hot enough to add in the rest.
- Add the rest of the popcorn in an even layer across the bottom of your pot.
- Remove the pot from the heat for 20 seconds to allow all of the kernels to come to the same temperature. Once 20 seconds have passed, return the pot to the heat and cover. Once the kernels are really popping, carefully move the pot back and forth across the burner to keep the kernels inside moving, so they don't burn.
- When the popping slows down and there are long pauses between pops, remove the popcorn from the heat and immediately transfer to a large bowl. If you leave it in the pot, it will burn.
- Toss with topping of your choice and serve while still hot.