Insights

Mastering the Art of
Stovetop Popcorn

Bagged popcorn has become wildly mainstream these days—it’s convenient to buy marked up bags of popped-a-while-ago stuff when you’re craving a warm, movie theatre-esque snack. It’s time to revive the art of stovetop popcorn and gain homemade popcorn confidence both in buying ingredients and making it at home.

Before we get into the buttery details, let’s first review. What is popcorn, really? It’s a special type of corn with a “hull” (or shell) around the outside of the kernel. The hull allows pressure to build up inside the kernel so that when it’s in a relaxing pool of hot oil it explodes and voilà! We get that fluffy popcorn we know and love.

Let’s talk kernels.

Yes, this is an important part of the popcorn-making process.

Yellow Popcorn Kernels
These are the most popular kernels around. They’re inexpensive and widely available—you can find them at almost all supermarkets. They pop in big, dense pieces and have a slight yellowish buttery-looking hue—which is most likely why they’re the kernel of choice at movie theaters.

White Popcorn Kernels
As the name suggests, these kernels pop white in color and have the most neutral flavor—a blank canvas for toppings and flavorings, if you will. They’re also a bit more tender than yellow kernels.

Mushroom & Ladyfinger Popcorn Kernels
Mushroom popcorn are those oh so poofy circular popcorn pieces (as opposed to the more common yellow and white kernels that pop in a “butterfly” shape). These guys are usually seen covered in a candy-coating or drizzled in chocolate. Ladyfinger popcorn are becoming more and more popular as “tiny popcorn”—a much smaller version of yellow popcorn. They pop about half the size of the regular yellow kernels, so they have more of a crunch and less fluffiness.

Red, Blue, and Black Popcorn Kernels
These are the heirloom strains. Unlike yellow and white popcorn, these have a thin hull that mostly disintegrates when they’re popped and although they pop white, they have hints of beautiful color and are a smaller size that yields big flavor and lots of crunch.

Now Let’s Talk Fat.

The best popcorn popping oils are those that work well under high heats and yield a yummy flavor. The second those kernels explode in your hot pot, the first flavoring they’re exposed to is the hot oil they were popped in. So make sure you pick a good one.

Ghee
Arguably the best popping option because of it’s high smoke point and incredible flavor.

Refined Coconut Oil
Be ready to commit to a slight coconut aroma.

Any neutral oil
Opt for canola, grapeseed, peanut oil etc.

Olive oil
Proceed with caution as olive oil has a low smoking point and if your pot gets a little too hot it’ll smoke and turn bitter in flavor. Therefore, olive oil is a great popcorn finishing oil.

So how do you make it?

The most successful vehicle for stovetop popcorn is a dutch oven, but if you don’t have one, a heavy soup or stock pot with a lid works, too.

A good rule of thumb: for every ½ cup popcorn kernels, you will need to add about 3 tablespoons of your desired oil to the pot. The high oil quantity is what helps produce extra heat and steam, and without those two things, there’s no popping. Like mentioned above, remember that whatever oil you choose will coat the just-popped kernels and give your toppings and flavorings something to cling to.

1. First, add your oil to the pot, off heat. Then, add 2 or 3 kernels to the pot, cover it and place it over medium heat. The key here is listening as your ‘corn will burn if you neglect it!

2. Once those kernels pop, carefully remove the lid, use tongs to pull them out, and then pour in the rest of your kernels. Immediately cover the pot, increase the heat between medium and medium-high, and listen.

3. When the kernels start popping, pick up the pot with the lid closed and shake it up and down to move the kernels around. Continue cooking while shaking periodically until the kernel popping slows down, and you can only hear 1 or 2 pops every couple seconds—that’s when it’s time to immediately remove the pot from heat and crack the lid so steam can escape.

4. After 30 seconds to 1 minute of cooling, pour your popcorn out onto a large baking sheet or into a big, wide bowl. Now toss with oil, butter etc. and toppings. The sooner you add the topping, the more apt they are to stick!.

Need some popcorn seasoning inspiration? Check out our favorite recipes!

Story contributed by Plated Recipe Developer Shanna Cooper.

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