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Popcorn Permutations

Stovetop popcorn featuring melted butter and fresh-ground curry powder

A week and a half ago I wrote a post that compared the two methods for cooking stovetop popcorn.  One obvious element that I didn’t deal with is what goes on the popcorn after it is cooked.  I made three small batches (actually one normal batch divided in three) to test one new idea, and double check quantities and take pictures of two old favourites.

Before we get to the finishing flavours I wanted one last crack at refining the cooking method.  A commentor on the original post suggested bacon fat as a more hardcore popping medium than canola oil.  Probably great but I have given up bacon for a while but luckily I still have a bunch of duck fat in the freezer from December’s duck adventures.  After confirming that duck fat has just as many online devotees for popcorn making as bacon fat I felt comfortable subbing it in for the canola.  I also melted a bit with some butter for topping one of the three mini-batches I made.

Melting duck fat and the thermostat kernels

I hope this doesn’t cast me as a culinary philistine but I have to admit that I was under-whelmed by the popcorn cooked and topped in duck fat.  I suppose it could just be a cognitive dissonance thing but I found it too greasy tasting and without the familiar flavour of butter I didn’t even find myself scraping the bowl with the last few popped kernels.  Sure, if you live on a foie gras farm go ahead and pop your popcorn in duck fat but otherwise save your bought (or home-rendered) cache for where it really shines: roast potatoes and sauteed green beans.

Butter and worcestershire sauce

With duck fat as a ho-hum half success I was really looking forward to the other two mini-batches because they featured flavours that I know I love on popcorn.  The first of two is worcestershire sauce, which I know is a bit unorthodox but every skeptic I have shared it with has come over to my side.  A scant teaspoon per serving of popcorn mixed in with the melted butter brings a really interesting savoury complexity as well as an intriguing, slightly sweet and fermented flavour.  It is essential that the worcestershire sauce goes in with the butter to melt so that it is hot.  Otherwise the room temperature liquid will cool the butter and in turn the popcorn leading to soggy, cold (though delicious tasting) unpleasantness.

Melted butter and the curry powder grinder

My other standby, curry powder, fits more easily into the idea of sprinkling popcorn with something fine (like salt) even if the flavours are a bit unconventional.   Warm spices highlighted by the sharpness of black pepper go perfectly with butter and the light texture of popcorn.  I understand the inclination to bury the premixed yellow-brown powder in the dark, dusty recesses at the back of the cupboard where its flavours will be right at home but I also wouldn’t measure, toast, and grind whole spices just for popcorn.  If you cook with Indian spices frequently you may have your own curry powder premixed and that will work well but my compromise solution is to use a premixed blend of whole spices that comes in a grinder equipped container.

Two categories I haven’t dealt with are cheese and caramel corn.  I can’t stand popcorn flavoured with atomized cheese powder.  It smells and tastes of socks to me and not the good, cave-aged, ash-covered French kind of sock taste.  I know some like popcorn with grated parmesan and I may try that again soon but for now cheese popcorn is a no-go.  On the other hand caramel or candy coated popcorn is a kitchen task that while I really like the product I just can’t deal with the process.  Too much careful temperature taking and dexterity required turning and flipping.  When I want it I’ll buy it.

Popcorn for most of us who grew up in North America  has strong attachments to earlier snacks that bring equally strong taste associations.  For me, duck fat popcorn is a bridge too far while worcestershire and curry powder are both victories in the search for interesting, delicious food.  I look forward to hearing more oddball ideas from readers about what they put on their popcorn.

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  1. Elaine says:

    I’m wondering if you have tried cooking your popcorn in olive oil a la Michael Smith?

  2. [...] Update: I have a post up about cooking popcorn in duck fat and flavouring it with worcestershire sauce or curry powder.  Take a look here. [...]

  3. foodwithlegs says:

    Elaine, thanks for the comment. Yes, I’ve done the olive oil thing. The taste was alright but I think the cooking smell was more unpleasant with olive oil. I find that canola fades to the background and highlights the toasty corn flavour without making too much of a stink. Both of the taste and cooking odour are really affected by those last ten or so seconds on the heat–the fine line between perfect and burnt–so mileage will vary.

  4. Drew says:

    Not too long ago I was charged with coming up with a new popcorn flavor daily. A few of my creations and favorites include: white truffle oil, parmesan and black pepper, cocoa powder and chile powder (cut with sugar), tomato powder fried basil and parmesan, mango powder and habanero vinegar, lemon espelette, and honey mustard. Now just don’t ask me about the unsuccessful combos!

  5. foodwithlegs says:

    Pretty cool, thanks for the comment, Drew.

  6. [...] Master Chef Susur Lee says Torontonians are more adventurous eaters than New Yorkers – more back patting for the Big Smokers. [...]

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