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Stovetop Popcorn

Almost finished popping

Almost finished popping

Time for a frank admission: We don”t own a microwave oven.  We have a meat grinder, a pasta maker, a griddle/panini maker and three coffee makers but no microwave.  We’re definitely not minimalists or kitchen luddites.  Worrying about the health effects of microwave ovens (compared to power lines, cellphone towers, etc.) seems a bit like complaining about your neighbour’s cat blowing on your tree during a hurricane but I appreciate the extra counter space as well as the added incentive to make real food–if I can’t microwave it am I really saving any time buying processed, standardised, junk?

Unfortunately there are a couple of things that microwaves do well.  Namely, cook frozen crab legs, reheat coffee, and pop popcorn.  In fact they fulfill the last function so well that until my microwave-less lifestyle began six months ago I had no idea how to make popcorn on the stove.

Google to the rescue.  Surprisingly, this site for a digest of computer-related tutorials is the top google hit for “stovetop popcorn” and was an excellent guide.  This process and its special tricks are pretty simple.

Three kernels work as a great thermostat

Three kernels work as a great thermostat

Heat the oil first using a few kernels as a thermostat (when they pop the oil is ready); leave the lid of the pot slightly ajar (letting steam out is good but without a lid popcorn flies everywhere); and use medium heat but move the pan off the heat and back to keep it from burning.  You know you’re done when the popped kernels fill the pot (depending, of course, on the size of your pot and how much popcorn you have in there) or when twenty to thirty seconds pass without a “pop”.

The fine grains of this pink salt are more suited to sticking to butter than coarser grains

The fine grains of this pink salt are more suited to sticking to butter than coarser grains

Salt and butter is good but salt and flavoured butter is an even better option.  Almost any spice or dried herb in the melted butter works excellently (I like curry powder or chinese five spice powder).  When choosing what salt to use remember that fine (and therefore lighter) grains stick to buttery kernels better coarser grains.  We don’t use any table salt so this pink salt is the only salt we have that is finer than kosher salt.

Drink Recommendation: With a curry-flavoured popcorn I like matching an Indian beer like Kingfisher.

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  1. Kat says:

    Your popcorn is really awesome but a note to those attempting to make this…

    Sometimes the oil leaves a thick odour in the air that can be unpleasant and doesn’t go away for about 24hrs.

    xo Your Picky Girlfriend

  2. foodwithlegs says:

    I hadn’t noticed this as much as Kat did. My nose may be less-well attuned to food odours (see sauerkraut experiments). Perhaps this recipe is a good candidate for bbq-adaptation. Popcorn around the campfire is pretty traditional so I don’t see why it wouldn’t work with the residual heat from the bbq.

  3. Lando says:

    Maybe you could consider using a different type of oil? Or perhaps less of it. On the bright side I now think of popcorn when I smell cooking oil…yum!

    While I am generally opposed to uni-functional kitchenware, our stovetop popcorn maker (with built-in patented stirring system) is totally awesome.

  4. foodwithlegs says:

    Thanks for the comment, Lando. I’m not sure if using a different cooking oil would help because I’m already using fairly neutral canola oil.

    A stovetop popcorn maker does look pretty appealing and like other kitchen unitaskers is probably available at garage sales. I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled this spring.

    On the unitasker front I’ve heard of the electric air poppers being used to roast coffee. I wonder if the stovetop versions can do the same?

  5. [...] On Tuesday I celebrated our first anniversary here at Food With Legs.  One of the things I dig most about writing this website is the opportunity to look back at what I was cooking in the past and re-examine techniques.  I was inspired by some talk on Twitter by Michael Ruhlman (author of Ratio, Charcuterie, and others) this week to take another look at my stovetop popcorn recipe. [...]

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