Perfect Popcorn

Yesterday was a perfect, late-summer day — hot and breezy and bright — and I spent it doing chores. This is not a complaint; after a weekend during which I spent hardly two hours at home, I was glad for the chance to dust, grocery shop, and put away clean, folded clothes. I kept the window open all day and into the evening. I talked to my dad as I trimmed radishes for a salad; I chatted with my mom as I pasted recipes into my recipe book (a task long-neglected and approaching completion — until I clip more recipes, that is).

Hook and I ate most of our meals out this weekend and so had plans to cook. We’d gotten fresh lemon thyme fettucine at the farmers market; I’d bought a boatload of English peas and had shelled them Saturday afternoon. I’d also picked up a baguette from which I cut two lengths, each of which I sliced in half, and spread those with evoo, minced garlic, black pepper, and grated Pecorino Romano. Those little puppies baked in a 365-degree oven for oh, twenty minutes, after which time they were crisp and brown-edged and oh-so-crunchily delicious. I had a glass of chardonnay; Hook opted for the raw milk he’s taken lately to drinking.

But let’s work backwards. Let’s retreat several hours to the warmest part of the afternoon when I sprawled on my bed, reading scone recipes online, trying to remember my AT&T password so that I might pay my phone bill in a timely fashion (curses!), trolling the J.Crew online sale to see if there was anything worthwhile for sale (there wasn’t). Though Hook hadn’t said he’d be late, at some level I knew it would be hours to go before we’d eat. Preemptively, I made my favorite snack: popcorn.

Microwave popcorn made the old-fashioned way: in a brown paper bag.

My favorite way to prepare popcorn is on the stove, following Mark Bittman’s recipe: add a tablespoon of vegetable oil to a pot; place a single kernel in the oil; cover the pot and light the burner, setting the heat to medium; when the single kernel pops, add 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels to the pot; cover; when the popping stops, remove from heat. Half a cup of kernels makes a hell of a lot of popcorn, and don’t you know that I can eat a batch all by myself? Well, I can.

 

I only make so-called “stove popcorn” at Hook’s house, though. I’m afraid of what my housemates might say were they to discover the common-use cookware marred by the frenzied motion of the kernels, glazed dark copper with multilayers of burned oil.

No matter: at my house, I use an alternate popping method. I simply place 1/4 to 1/3 cup of popcorn kernels in a brown paper lunch sack — the kind you may have used to make puppets at your after-school program — and fold shut the sack. Place the sack in your microwave and nuke for three minutes on medium-high to high heat. When the popping stops, kill the power on your microwave. Empty the sack’s contents into a large bowl, salt generously, and enjoy.

This popping practice may make me seem like a Luddite; I do realize this. But Pop Secret devotees, hear me out! Home-microwave popcorn is superior for a few reasons. First, it tastes much better — fresher, fluffier, less oily — than any store-bought microwave variety I’ve tried (including Newman’s Own).

Second, it’s a lot cheaper than the alternative. Around these parts, bulk organic yellow popcorn will set you back about $1.99 a pound. A lot of popcorn can be made from a pound (or two) of kernels. I’m not up on the current price of microwave popcorn, but I’d wager that a box will set you back about $5.00. LAME.

Third, homemade popcorn is eco-friendlier. Those brown paper bags can be composted, yo! If they’re clean enough, they can even be recycled. Not so the commercially produced variety, coated as they are with palm kernel oil. I’m not 100% sure that microwave popcorn bags can’t be composted; I do know that in my house, they’re trash. Regardless, buying bulk kernels eliminates not only the individual popping bags, but all the plastic wrap & cardboard boxes and so forth.

Finally, homemade popcorn is healthier. Have you checked the nutrition info on store-bought corn? Read ’em and weep, friends. That fake butter taste comes with a price.

Yesterday’s popcorn was so close to perfect. Yes, the batch was riddled with Old Maids, rattling around the bottom of the bag and then the bottom of the bowl. But enjoyed with a fresh-chilled bottle of lime seltzer, eaten while listening to She & Him at a low volume, the corn was delicious and tided me over until Hook’s and my awesome dinner. What more can I ask for in a snack? Answer: not much.

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