A bowl of popcorn has long been the perfect match for big screen movies. While nothing can replace the experience of watching some movies on the big screen, popcorn is a snack that can easily come home to your comfy couch. We love to pop up batches for movie nights, TV marathons, and Mad Men viewing parties.
The popcorn-butter pairing may be as quintessential as the popcorn-movie connection, but at home, why not take the opportunity to be more creative? When the contents of your pantry are in easy reach, turning plain popcorn into an even tastier snack is a simple trick to keep up your sleeve.
Making popcorn on the stovetop is an easy task: Set a big, heavy pot with a lid over medium-high heat and film the bottom with oil. Put a kernel in the pot. When it pops, add more kernels, enough to line the surface with a single layer. Cover the pot and listen to the popcorn make actual popping noises. When the din starts to quiet down, shake the pot and then continue cooking until the pops slow again. That’s when your kernels are mostly popped but not yet burnt. This will make a lot of popcorn, around 12 to 16 cups, depending on the size of your pot.
To get flavors to stick to your fluffy white kernels, you’ll typically need some fat. Usually, this takes the form of olive oil or melted butter (1/3 to 1/2 cup for that whole bowl), but you can also substitute your favorites, like coconut oil, toasted sesame oil, or ghee. If, after being seasoned, your popped kernels seem soggy, crisp them with the Cracker Jack method, which works especially well when there’s cheese or sugar in the mix: Toss popcorn with your desired toppings, spread everything on a sheet pan, and bake the dressed kernels at a very low temperature—250°F or 300°F—until dried out, anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes. One last trick is to add a beaten egg white with your seasoning, and then bake at a low temperature.
Here are some of our favorite seasonings to try:
1. Olive Oil & Salt
(Photo: Serious Eats)
If you’re used to the richness of buttery movie popcorn, you’ll love the light, fruity notes that come with an olive oil drizzle. Pick a bottle of the freshest extra virgin you can find, then pour over hot popcorn, tossing as you go. Season with plenty of salt.
2. Butter & Grated Parm
(Photo: Cookie & Kate)
Movie popcorn goes gourmet when freshly grated Parmesan stands in for some of the snack bar version’s addictive saltiness. A sprinkle of dried thyme or oregano adds a welcome reprieve from all the richness.
3. Lemon & Pepper
Combine lemon juice, lemon zest, and coarsely ground black or green peppercorns with either butter or olive oil before you toss everything together for a bowl with a little bit of bite.
4. Sesame & Nori
(Photo: Honestly Yum)
Add a few glugs of toasted sesame oil and a few of a more neutral oil, then scatter slivers of toasted nori to add bursts of umami—and a pretty dark green hue—to your mix. You could also try pre-mixed Japanese blends, like Togarashi (seven spice) or furikake (a mix of chopped seaweed, salt, and sugar). Both can be found at any Asian speciality shop and are welcome additions to the pantry.
5. Sugar & Salt: Kettle Corn
(Photo: Salt and Wind)
When you make state fair favorite kettle corn, you basically caramelize sugar at the same time as the kernels pop. So add about ¼ cup sugar when you add the kernels and watch the pot even more carefully than usual, so the sugar doesn’t burn. When done, sprinkle with salt and let the kernels dry out in one layer on a baking sheet before you eat.
6. Old Bay
(Photo: Food Network)
Shakes of Maryland’s go-to crab seasoning will enrobe your popped corn in the savory combination of paprika and celery salt that’ll keep you licking your fingers, going for more, and being thankful that you don’t have to crack open crabs to get your dose of this spice.
7. Butter & Truffle Salt
There’s not much in the world that can compete with the earthy, funky flavor of prized truffle mushrooms, and a coating of melted butter on popcorn before you apply your truffle salt (sparingly—it’s strong) only helps it continue to win any flavor battle.
(Photo: Brown Eyed Baker)
Fry up a few slices of bacon. When they’re crispy, crumble them up. Then pour the bacon fat from the pan in with your popcorn, add the homemade bacon bits, and mix together for an indulgent bowl.
9. Ghee & Mustard Seeds
(Photo: Not Lazy, Rustic)
Take a cue from the Indian seasoning tadka, an aromatic way of flavoring curries and sauces. Heat up ghee (clarified butter) or coconut oil. When it’s very hot, drop in 2 teaspoons of brown mustard seeds and some dried chilies if you like. Cover the pot—the mustard seeds pop, just like popcorn! When they stop popping, pour the spices and ghee right onto your popcorn and distribute well.
(Photo: Cookie & Kate)
Spoonfuls of your favorite chili powder will turn each handful of popcorn into a fiesta. A sprinkle of sugar is the surprise secret ingredient that will make the chili flavors shine.
11. Kasha Crunch
In a recent New York Times Magazine article, Chef Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese shared an enigmatic topping he uses for an Asian take on Caesar salad. Forget the salad beneath it, this topping of toasted kasha, sesame seeds, and nori wants to amp up your popcorn instead. You can find kasha at health food stores and seaweed at Japanese markets.
12. Fresh Parsley, Chives Tarragon & Thyme
(Photo: The Washington Post)
A French treatment of popcorn looks to chopped fresh fines herbes to elevate each bite with healthy freshness. Use olive oil to help the herbs stick, and replace some of your regular salt with flaky sea salt. Even if you don’t have all four herbs, try this with just one or two.
13. Three-Cheese Pizza
(Photo: Foxes Love Lemons)
Grate three melting cheeses, like Parmesan, provolone, and fontina. Toss all of them in with the popped popcorn, then throw in little handfuls of minced sun-dried tomatoes, plenty of olive oil, herbs like dried oregano, thyme, and basil, and finely minced garlic. Spread the popcorn on a sheet pan and put it in the oven so that the cheese melts.
14. Double Peanut
(Photo: Serious Eats)
More peanut-y than Cracker Jack, this rich treat from Serious Eats features peanut butter and peanuts, plus honey and sugar for good measure.
What’s your favorite way to season popcorn? Tell us in the comments below!