April 24, 2018
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How Do I Make Really Good Popcorn?
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The key to a great stovetop recipe lies in a blend of nutritional yeast, dulse, and Urfa biber.

Popcorn: It’s what’s for dinner. Well, it’s what’s for those moments between lunch and dinner when you are hanging out on the sofa bingeing through the latest season of Broadchurch. Popcorn is the great in-between meal. It’s cheap, filling, kinda healthy (though let’s be honest, not really), and fun to make on your own. Popcorn is also infinitely customizable, which ensures it never gets stale. Speaking of stale, we’ve got no beef with those bags of SkinnyPop, but fresh-from-the-stovetop always tastes better to us.

So what holds people back from making popcorn DIY style? An annoyingly high ratio of unpopped to popped kernels is second only to burning the batch. You can hear the smoke alarm now. Both of these issues give home cooks pause. And lastly, getting the seasoning part right can be tricky. You’re looking for a middle ground here—a seasoning blend that is interesting, packed with saltiness, but not too weird and out there.

The key to achieving this balance is found at the health food store or the baking section of your local Whole Foods: brewer’s yeast or nutritional yeast. Brewer’s yeast is an inactive yeast that is a byproduct of beer making, while nutritional yeast is grown specifically from vegetable sugar as a seasoning product. In addition to being chock-full of vitamins, brewer’s yeast is high in glutamic acid—a free glutamate that, when mixed with salt (sodium), like in your popcorn, creates monosodium glutamate, or MSG, which has been kindly rebranded as umami, the mythic fifth “taste.” Short translation: delicious popcorn.

But we’re not stopping with just a sprinkling of brewer’s yeast. Dulse is a dried red seaweed harvested off the coast of Japan and in the chilly waters of the north Atlantic. Dulse is a natural salt substitute with a subtle whisper of the ocean. It also happens to be packed with more of those free glutamates.

You could stop there, but we like our popcorn on the slightly spicy side, just enough to tickle the tongue and keep you going back for more. You didn’t know you needed Urfa biber—a dried Turkish chile pepper with a raisin-like sweetness, a subtle spice, and the gentle acidity of a lightly roasted Ethiopian coffee—until you started cooking with it. You can rub it on lamb shoulder or shake it into a batch of chocolate brownies. It’s spectacular in popcorn, adding more flavor (Urfiness) without making your popcorn overly spicy.

TASTE editor in chief Matt Rodbard and chef Daniel Holzman are friends. Matt has many food and home cooking questions. Daniel has many food and home cooking opinions. This is called 100 Questions for My Friend the Chef.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ⅓ cup popcorn
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon dulse flakes
  • ½ teaspoon Urfa biber
  • 1 tablespoon brewer’s yeast

You might be wondering why many stovetop popcorn recipes call for three “tester” kernels to be placed in the heating oil and not just one. Daniel has a theory: With one kernel, the pop could be a fluke, and you may not even hear it. Two kernels might be sufficient, but you want the oil to be a little hotter than the ideal popping temperature. So go with three testers. Pop, pop, pop. So when you add your popcorn—which btw I keep in the fridge so it stays hydrated, which ensures all of the kernels pop; if yours don’t, it’s probably because they’re dried out—it doesn’t cool the oil off and take forever to start popping again.

Note: It’s important to butter before seasoning, otherwise the seasoning won’t stick to the popcorn—it will just fall to the bottom and you’ll get underseasoned popcorn and salty buttery sludge at the bottom of your bowl.

  1. Heat the vegetable oil along with three kernels of popcorn over a medium-high flame in a medium-size (4-quart) saucepot with a tight-fitting lid. When the kernels pop (about 3 minutes), add the rest of the popcorn to the pot, cover, and continue cooking, shaking frequently to ensure the unpopped kernels fall to the bottom (they are heavier and will sift their way down when agitated). The corn should begin popping soon after adding, and it should pop constantly for 3-4 minutes. When the popping slows down (3-4 seconds between pops), it’s time to turn off the flame and immediately transfer the popped corn to a waiting bowl. Leaving it in the hot pot will risk burning it.
  2. Wait one minute for the pot to cool, then add the butter. Once it’s melted and slightly brown, pour it over the popcorn, mixing vigorously to distribute (you can add some of the popcorn back into the pot and mix it around to soak up all of the buttery goodness, like the top-of-the-bag corn at the movie theater). Then add the salt, Urfa biber, dulse, and brewer’s yeast, mixing to incorporate.

Matt Rodbard & Daniel Holzman

TASTE editor in chief Matt Rodbard and chef Daniel Holzman are friends. Matt has many food and home cooking questions. Daniel has many food and home cooking opinions. Their column is called 100 Food Questions for My Friend the Chef.

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