Whether it’s salted, buttered, or bare as the day it was popped, there’s something about popcorn that makes it a perfect companion for just about anything. As for holidays, it goes back to America’s beginning. The British colonists were introduced to popcorn during the first Thanksgiving. Of course, popcorn is an old standard used as tinsel for Christmas trees, and who hasn’t received a giant tin of some kind of popcorn at least once as a gift?
What about the movies? Sure actors and actresses get all the Oscars, while those cute, fluffy little kernels do the really hard work – keeping movie goers munching contentedly for two hours at a clip. The motion picture industry might not be the global colossus it is today without the aid of popcorn.
Holding its own on the list of such burning questions is the quintessential query of what is the very best way to pop and enjoy popcorn. Here are some tips born of butter, salt and taste-testing, courtesy of The Popcorn Board (http://www.popcorn.org) and http://www.WFAA.com/living.
Preheat to perfection. First, warm the popper, heavy pan or heavy skillet. If oil-popping your corn, add 1/4 cup of cooking oil. Allow the oil to heat. Don’t ever pop popcorn in butter. Butter will burn. Vegetable oils are low in saturated fat, but any oil will work provided it can retain the proper temperature. Optimum popping temperature is between 400 to 460 F. Remember, oil burns at 500 degrees, so if your oil starts to smoke, it is too hot.
Test the oil heat by dropping in one or two kernels. When the kernel pops or spins in the oil you’re ready to add the remaining popcorn. Pour just enough kernels to cover the bottom of the pan. Shake the pan to be certain the oil coats each kernel. Be sure the lid of the pan is loose enough to allow steam to escape.
For magnificent microwave popcorn, place one cup of water in the microwave and run for one minute before popping the popcorn. The added moisture allows for the most efficient and complete popping of the bag. Once the corn is popped, shake the bag well before opening, so the oil is evenly distributed about the kernels.
Never put popcorn in a paper bag for microwave popping – it could cause a fire, damage your microwave and ruin your popcorn.
Flavor with Flair. So, now that you have popped your corn to its light, fluffy best, let’s talk about seasoning. Popcorn has an affinity for both savory and sweet flavors. If you’ve never experimented with popcorn before, delightful new taste surprises await you.
Salt will toughen the popcorn, so always add it after popping. Or, add herbs to create a healthier, savory option.
Feeling zesty? Try sprinkling parmesan cheese, “Cajun” spices or lemon-pepper garlic blends on hot popcorn. You can also toss with pesto or a variety of shredded cheeses.
Here’s a simple way to create gourmet popcorn flavors: lightly spray warm popcorn with cooking spray, then sprinkle with seasonings like ranch or Italian powdered salad dressing, curry or chili powder.
Craving something sweeter? Try sprinkling sugar over the kernels as they begin to heat in oil. This will encase each popped kernel in a light sweet glaze. To satisfy your “sweet tooth” with a healthy twist, sweeten plain yogurt with brown sugar, thin to drizzle consistency, add a little light corn syrup and enjoy. Or, you can turn your popcorn into a high-fiber confection – drizzle melted chocolate or toffee over popcorn, mix with salted nuts and add sliced dried apricots or candied orange peel. Delicious!