20 January 2012

Popcorn - My Culinary Nemesis


Popcorn is my culinary nemesis, the one thing I simply cannot make. Stovetop popcorn, to be more precise. Sure, I can put a bag in the microwave and have popcorn success in just a couple minutes. And, quite possibly, an electric popcorn machine might work for me. But I really don't want either microwave popcorn or another single-use appliance unless I really need it.

Why can't I make popcorn?

It doesn't matter whether I use ordinary supermarket popping corn that has been hanging out in the fridge for years or brand-new, fresh, organic kernels, I have had zero success. Zero. One batch was greasy. Another was dry and tasteless. Countless others were burnt. And those were the best of the batches! I didn't even attempt to count the unpopped corn kernels; I'm not sure I can count that high!

Can you help me?

These are my criteria for my perfect popcorn:

1. Made on a gas stove.
2. Made in an ordinary multi-use pan (heavy saucepan, skillet or Dutch oven).
3. Made without shaking the pan (I do not want to have to shake the pan). 
4. Made, not entirely without oil, but with the least amount possible.

If you yourself cannot help me, please send a link to this post to everyone you know; Stumble it, Pin it, Tweet it; do whatever it is that people who know what they're doing on the web do to get the word out. I seriously need help!

49 comments:

Swedish Mike said...

Jean,

I'll past the message on since I'm afraid that I can't help you. I just don't think you can make it without shaking the pan on the hob.

since the single use machines are out of bounds I think this one will be tough to crack. :(

// Mike

Jean said...

Thanks, Mike! I do so hope someone will be able to help me do it my way! If not ... I might have to adjust!

Jenn said...

I wish I could help you there, Jean... I have a Whirley-Pop that I use and that is the only way I have ever been able to make popcorn on the stove top! I'm hoping someone has a way to share with you though, as I'm sure you will enlighten us all once you've done it!

Jean said...

Thanks, Jenn! Do spread the word that I'm looking for an answer. I mean business!

Cranberry Morning said...

Yea!! Your comments link works just fine now. :-) As for the popcorn, my husband has a reputation for making the BEST popcorn ever! I will try to write a post about it next week or so. I know that one key factor is not letting the oil get overly hot. Another is, using a really good popcorn. I'll try to get busy on that. Personally, I can't eat the stuff. Popcorn just hurts my tummy, and I try to stay away from wheat, corn, soy. :-(( But I absolutely LOVE the smell of it!

Cranberry Morning said...

P.S. Why don't you want to shake the pan?

Cranberry Morning said...

I'm sorry to be a comment hog, Jean, but I just remembered that I had wanted to mention that I made your recipe for Beef Stew last week and it was the absolute best beef stew we have ever eaten!! (and I thought my recipe was pretty good...until I made yours) I did alter it a wee bit by using sweet potato instead of potatoes, and adding mushrooms. Other than that, your recipe all the way!

Jean said...

Judy, you can be a "comment hog" anytime you like! Glad you liked my stew. I'm sure yours is very good, so I'm very flattered when you say mine is "the absolute best beef stew [you] have ever eaten"!

Why do I not want to shake the pan when making popcorn? First, I don't want to scratch up the stove (love my continuous grate or whatever you call the black things that go over the burners). Second, my pans are very, very heavy, too heavy to stand there lifting and shaking.

Kim and Megan said...

Jean, my comment is working :)
I also have popcorn issues, and I eagerly await the solution that I'm sure one of your readers will provide!

Jean said...

Thanks so much! So far so good since I switched from embedded to popup comments. Do check back to see if any of my readers comes up with a solution.

Cranberry Morning said...

Jean, the popcorn pan we use is an old Wearever stainless steel clad aluminum pot.It's wonderful, and not too heavy to lift a bit off the burner and shake now and then. I don't think there's any getting around needing to shake the pan. We always lift it because we have a ceramic stovetop.

Jean said...

What size is it? How much oil and popcorn do you put in it? And, most important of all, how often do you have to shake it?

Thomas "Sully" Sullivan said...

Ah, you’ve gotten around to one of my gourmet entrees, and I'm late to the table! Swedish Mike has it right all the way, ditto Cranberry Morning. Subjective or not, I feel like I have developed a rapport with the pan/popper. Call it X-ray fingers. You must feel empathy for the “Little Kernels/Colonels” undergoing their holocaust – or more precisely, their blossomed coming-of-age rights of passage into snow white adults. And when you feel their pain, you shake their pan. The real art is adding butter, which I'm sure is on your verboten list, and then choosing the right apple/cider to go with it. Alternately: Presto Lightpopper is an ideal single-purpose unit, but there to hands-on manipulation during processing does a better job (hard to explain, you have to be an initiate steeped in voodoo popping).

Jean said...

Thanks, Sully! I'll attempt to learn the pan-shaking method before I resort to buying a popper. But if it comes to that, glad to have the recommendation. I'll look into the Presto Lightpopper.

Mom and Kiddo said...

I've never commented here before, but I'm happy to say I make perfect popcorn every time. Here's my method:

heat pot with either coconut oil or ghee (aka clarified butter). Any other oil will burn. I have a gas stove and heat it at mark 5 (my stove goes up to 6 then "high" if that helps you translate it on your stove).

Then I add 1/2 cup popcorn, spread evenly, and put on the cover. I never shake it. I just wait until the popping and subsides and voila!

Sometimes I do add the popcorn before the oil has heated and it still turns out good, but it's still better when oil is heated beforehand.

I used to use canola oil but it ALWAYS burned. Coconut oil and ghee have very high smoke points, which is why they work. I hope this works for you!

Mom and Kiddo said...

Oh, And I should add, I don't measure the oil, I just put a big glob of it in.My pot is 3 quarts and the 1/2 cup of popcorn fills it perfectly.

Jean said...

And the coconut oil doesn't make the popcorn taste like coconut? If not, I'll pick up some coconut oil today! Otherwise, I'll try the ghee. Thank you soooooo much!

Christy said...

I'll help to pass on the message and search for anything I can to help you out on this, as I am definitely no help to you as well on kitchen matters :p

Anonymous said...

I loved this post, popcorn and I did not get a long for a while. I learned a technique that seems to work really well for us at home. A little oil at the bottle of my dutch oven pan, with one kernel put in the heating oil. Throw the lid on and turn the burner just over medium. Let it heat, no shaking. once you hear the pop of your single popcorn piece, you will know the oil is ready, Toss in about half a cup of popcorn into the hot oil now and replace the lid. I dont have to shake that much, but i always give it a good up and down a couple times with the lid on to trap any caught up unpopped kernels.

Hope that helps=)

Jean said...

Christy, thanks so much. Let me know whatever you find out!

Jean said...

Anonymous, I so appreciate the direction. So it sounds like you subscribe to the "test kernel" method that my husband told me about. I'll try the Dutch oven too. I might have to hold off on trying some of these things for about a week--I've been ODing on popcorn this week!

Meridith said...

Put the oil in the pan and let it get smoking hot, add 1 TBS butter and the popcorn, put lid on and shake a couple of times. Let it pop until it is done, remove lid carefully so the steam doesn't burn you. pour 1/2 in your bowl, shake salt over it, and grated parmesan, then the rest on top of that more salt and more parm. Perfecto!

Mom and Kiddo said...

I'm quite used to the coconut oil, so maybe I just don't notice it anymore -- but of course ghee is a win-win since it gives a nice butter flavor.

Jean said...

Mom and Kiddo, I know what you mean about being used to something. I'll just have to try the coconut oil and see! But as you say, the ghee is a win-win. Thanks again!

Jean said...

Thanks, Meridith! I like the idea of adding the butter after heating the oil. Must try soon! I have a friend who puts parmesan on her popcorn, but I haven't tried it yet. Soon!

Joycee said...

I'm assuming you want fresh, crunchy popcorn with almost all the kernals popped? We have used the same Presto Microwave popper for over 10 years. That's 10 years worth of oil saved...so that we can add butter! Walmart carries them in the small appliance dept.

Jean said...

Joycee, thank you! I hadn't thought about a microwave popper. I'll look into the Presto. Thanks for the tip!

Meredith S. said...

Do not add the butter until after!! It WILL burn because the oil is super hot. You will get nasty burnt butter all over your popcorn! Not worth trying to save a little time. We use coconut oil to do ours on the stove and use a "test kernel".

Meredith S. said...

Do not add the butter to the hot oil!!! It WILL burn because the oil is super hot! You will end up with popcorn coated in nasty black burnt butter and waste all those ingredients. I speak from experience :) Not worth trying to skip the step of putting butter on after. We use coconut oil and a "test kernel". The key to movie theater style popcorn is adding butter flavored salt to the oil. Cheers!!!

Jean said...

Thanks for the tips, Meredith! Another vote for coconut oil--I must give it a try.

Susan J Meyerott, M.S. said...

Jean--here is our 'comment test'. It was a little strange getting to the comment box but I do see my own goggle identity. Now let's see if you get it!

Alas, I do believe you must change your ways--and shake the pan unless you get a popcorn popping pan. Years ago I got a ridiculous looking popcorn pan that has a handle that stirs the popcorn. You don't shake it--you turn the handle. 1/2 C orville popcorn with 3 Tbl olive oil. Perfect. Salt and butter if desire afterwards.

Jean said...

Thanks, Sue! If I dig back in my saucepan cupboard, I might be able to find a lighter 3-quart pan that I *could* lift and shake a bit if I absolutely *had* to! Olive oil ... hmm. I'm going to try everything readers are suggesting!

Develsaa said...

I have one of these - http://www.amazon.com/Homestyle-6-Quart-Popcorn-Wood-Handle/dp/B004T0AEFS -

You can definitely find it cheaper I think we paid like 10$ for it, and it's great, rarely anything burns..

We do a 1/4th cup of oil + a half cup of kernels, and a healthy dose of salt while cranking it.

Then afterwards you can pour on whatever topping you'd like, close the lid, crank it again and viola all done =)

Jean said...

That sounds like a definite possibility; I'll check it out! Thanks! And I like the idea of adding the salt before popping instead of after.

Charles said...

Hi Jean - my popcorn isn't world-class, but I employ a technique similar to "Mom and Kiddo", though I use peanut oil (it doesn't impart peanut taste to the final product :) )

What I do is put about 3 tbsps into the bottom of a pan and heat it on medium high heat until it's really hot... almost smoking. Put in a quantity of popcorn kernels - the trick is not to add too many. Usually about 5-6 tbsps is good. Stir to coat in the oil and cover. Popping will start quickly. Cook until popping subsides and you should be good.

The two best tips I can offer are:
1) Make sure the oil is really hot first

2) Use a heavy pan with a thick bottom (something like copper or cast iron) as this will insulate the kernels better from the direct heat.

Jean said...

Thank you, Charles. It *sounds* easy enough--we'll see! I think my mother used peanut oil in her Chinese cooking because it has a really high smoke point. I'll have to pick some up. And for that amount of kernels, I've been using just 2 tablespoons of oil. Maybe I'll have to try a bit more.

kristin said...

Hi Jean. I don't have much to add based on personal experience with popcorn. Like some others here, I have a Stovetop Popcorn Popper that I like very much, but I've found that exact proportions tend to take some fiddling based on age of the kernels, stove, etc.

But it does seem timely that Lifehacker had a post today on popping popcorn in your wok. If nothing else here works, you might give it a try...can't hurt, anyway!

Jean said...

Thanks so much, Kristin! I don't have one, but a wok is something I might be able to put to multiple uses, so I'll check that out.

Susan said...

i actually pop my corn in the microwave, using the alton brown method. take a paper bag. i put in about 1/3 c of popcorn. i then add 2-3 TBLS of vegetable oil. fold the top down twice and staple it twice. (the staples will be fine, don't worry!) then nuke it for about 2 mins. voila! popcorn!

Jean said...

Hmm ... microwave popcorn without the chemicals ... might have to give it a try! Thanks, Susan!

Irvin @ Eat the Love said...

Two ways. Susan is right, you can microwave the popcorn in a paper bag. Don't even bother to staple it, just microwave the popcorn kernels tossed with a little oil (I find I only need 1 tablespoon) and salt (1/2 teaspoon is enough for me, but your taste may vary). Toss in bag, fold down the top of the bag 1" from top and microwave from 1 1/2 minutes to 2 minutes, depending on microwave strength. Keep in mind that you'll have a lot of unpopped kernels this way.

Second is stovetop, which I prefer. I prefer NOT to use heavy cast iron dutch oven, but rather a large lightweight pot, one that you would boil water in for spaghetti. It's light, meaning shaking isn't an issue, heats up fast, and more importantly, doesn't retain heat too much, which cast iron will do, which leads to scorching if you don't remove the popcorn right away.

I also use a "splatter guard" screen, the kind that is a circular mesh screen that you put over a skillet so the bacon grease doesn't splatter on you. The advantage of this is the steam from the popcorn is allowed to escape, and you can watch how much popcorn is popping as you make it. However if you don't have this, the lid of the pot will work just as well.

My method: Place the pot on the gas stove, add 1 to 2 tablespoon of olive oil (or any oil of your choice, I prefer to use avocado, extra virgin olive, grapeseed or coconut) and 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt. Place three kernels of popcorn in the pan and turn the heat to high. Cover with screen (or the lid of the pot, just leave it ajar to let steam out) and wait until the popcorn kernels pop (shaking occasionally - you can lift the pot off the stove to shake if you are afraid you'll scratch something).

Once the three kernels have popped, turn off the heat and add 1/3 cup of popcorn kernels. Set a timer to 30 seconds, and shake the popcorn kernels to coat with oil and salt. Once the 30 seconds are up, turn the heat up to medium high and occasionally shake the pot as the kernels pops. Once the popcorn has slowed to about one or two seconds between pops, turn the heat off, and pour the popcorn into a bowl. Done.

The 30 seconds off the heat allows for the residual heat of the pan and oil to warm the kernels, so they start to pop at the same time which means you have less duds in the pot. Enjoy!

Jean said...

Irvin, thank you sooooo much! Here I've been thinking my heavy pans should be better for this than a thin one, but your explanation of the pan has me convinced I need to get one cheapy thin pan to improve my chances with popcorn! A pan I can actually lift to give it an occasional shake.

Jeanette said...

You have so many comments I don't have time to see if anyone makes the perfect popcorn.

My perfect popcorn: Heavy pan with glass lid. Barely cover bottom with high quality vegetable oil for best taste. Heat. Cover bottom of pan with popcorn. Cook on medium high gas heat until pot is full. No shaking needed. Put in large bowl that has a plastic lid. Pour half cube microwaved butter over. Add salt. Shake now! Eat. Just ask @LoriMoreno about my popcorn.

EnJoy!

@JeanetteJoy

Lorenzo said...

Hello Jean, it seems the bug with "threaded comments" has been fixed.
At least, it works now on my own blog, using IE9.

Sorry but I haven't ever cooked pop-corn in my life (it isn't traditional here) so I can't give any advice. :)

Jean said...

Jeanette, thank you! I love the idea of watching the popping through a glass lid! And pouring it into a lidded bowl so that you can shake it to distribute the salt and melted butter! And I already have the perfect bowl.

Jean said...

Lorenzo, I never thought about it, but I suppose popcorn would not be traditional in Italy! Thanks for letting me know about the Blogger problem being fixed; I'll check it out.

Lorenzo said...

Not only popcorn but also corn cobs aren't traditional. Corn is used in north Italy for making "commeal", yellow flour. Then the flour is used for making "polenta" (it is a sort of porrige, google for it if you don't know it already), bread and some cakes. In recent times boiled grains of corn are also used in salads.

Jean said...

Love polenta!

Jean said...

My popcorn is getting better! I'll come back eventually and tell you my final version!

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