Popcorn, always with the popcorn
July 22, 2016 11:38 AM   Subscribe

Popcorn. Not just a snack, but a metaphor for schadenfreude. And darn tasty to boot. You can mix equal volumes popcorn and milk without raising the level of the milk, which is kinda fun but doesn't taste very good. Or....

Snacking and vaudeville went hand in hand, at least for my fellow lower class types, but at the time peanuts were more popular and snacking was strictly lower class.

Movie theaters scorned popcorn on their lush carpets, until the Great Depression made them welcome it to bolster the bottom line.

Declining attendance at the theater reversed dramatically as the snack bar became a fixture at the movies.

People have been eating popcorn in South America for around 6,700 years.

Making popcorn at home isn't hard, but does work best if you work in medium batches in a large pot. A splatter screen instead of a pot lid makes for crisper corn since it allows the steam to escape. I'm a fan of putting it in a brown paper bag to toss with your toppings, it makes it easier to shake things up and the bag absorbs some of the excess oil. Do spend the money on popcorn salt, it's finer ground than normal table salt and will stick better to your corn.

These days most people use oil when popping corn on the stove top, but Laura Ingalls described cooking it in nothing but very hot salt at the bottom of her kettle. It works but oil makes for a better flavor.

The real question for most people is what to top it with?

The answer is salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese, and ground thyme. The thyme is essential.

Or you could try other things if you must.

But you shouldn't limit popcorn to mere snacking, it works as an ingredient. Use popcorn as part of the breading for shrimp, tasty.

Or try something fancier, like chicken with a popcorn puree.

Popcorn grits are a thing too.

Or you could just eat it while watching a movie. For Schadenfreude stick to pie
posted by sotonohito (62 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
In Maryland we like to put Old Bay on most everything, and popcorn is no exception.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:43 AM on July 22, 2016 [10 favorites]

Laura Ingalls described cooking it in nothing but very hot salt at the bottom of her kettle. It works but oil makes for a better flavor.

Laura Ingalls Wilder really was the master of the bullshit recipe, wasn't she?
posted by howfar at 11:46 AM on July 22, 2016 [15 favorites]

On the other hand, FPP's linked shrimp recipe had me at the words "pork dust".
posted by howfar at 11:48 AM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I was a fat little kid, dipping popcorn in chocolate milk was totally my thing.
posted by deadaluspark at 11:51 AM on July 22, 2016

Although I'm an omnivore, I really like nutritional (NOT brewer's) yeast sprinkled over air-popped popcorn, which I learned from a vegan. It's not buttery, exactly, but it's damn near as good in its own umami way.

Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to trying some of the other toppings mentioned in the post.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:55 AM on July 22, 2016 [18 favorites]

I am literally eating homemade popcorn right now (made on the stovetop in a lidded pan, coated with nutritional yeast, hot smoked paprika, smoked garlic, and salt). I thought it was all popped and when I took the lid off some of it popped in my face and I was very restrained in my reaction i.e. did not throw the entire pan across the kitchen in shock.
posted by theseldomseenkid at 11:55 AM on July 22, 2016 [10 favorites]

I have popcorn as a snack most nights.

The most superior topping is a little butter, nutritional yeast and applewood smoked salt. Delicious.
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:57 AM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I put Madras curry powder on mine. My fingers get dyed yellow.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:02 PM on July 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Cumin and salt. That is all.
posted by garisimo at 12:03 PM on July 22, 2016

I made kettle corn once by adding sugar to the popping oil (as directed by a recipe). It was delicious, but some molten sugar left a nasty little scar on my arm.
posted by teponaztli at 12:04 PM on July 22, 2016

Forget popcorn shrimp, do shrimp on popcorn salad. Citrus dressing over shrimp and popcorn sounds crazy, but it is sooooo delicious!
posted by Kabanos at 12:10 PM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

garam masala and garlic powder are also excellent popcorn toppings
posted by idiopath at 12:12 PM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

We eat sort of a lot of popcorn. We have a container in the pantry that holds I think 4lbs of kernels? Honestly I'm not sure, but we refill it pretty regularly. Somehow, though, we bought a big shaker of popcorn salt at least 5 years ago and still haven't managed to use it all.

We're Whirley Pop fans; it's easy and will pop half a cup of popcorn without leaving any unpopped kernels, usually. No butter, though. I hate the feeling of greasy stuff in my hands. It's making me ick a little just thinking about it.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:15 PM on July 22, 2016

I use Alton's recipe/procedure but I like to add a few drops of Tabasco sauce to my oil, pop the corn, and then sprinkle on some salt, a little bit of cajun seasoning, and a lot of grated parmesan cheese. It has just a little bit of kick but a little bit of smoothness, too.
posted by ElKevbo at 12:16 PM on July 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've started putting powdered PB and powdered Sriracha on mine, for a vaguely thai-influenced popcorn. It's delicious!
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:27 PM on July 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

On my phone and so can't post links supporting this, but it wasn't just the Depression that led to movie theaters embracing popcorn, it was the breakup of the studio monopolies in the rush of anti-trust legislation brought on by FDR.

Short version: movies used to be big(ger) business. In 1929-1930, 90 million movie tickets were sold per week in the US, which remember the population at the time was about 130 million. Even radio hadn't yet made significant inroads into people's homes. And in the early days of movies, film studios controlled everything. They created the films, had all their creatives on exclusive contracts, distributed them through their film distribution arms, and presented them in theaters they owned. So if you wanted to see a Paramount movie starring Paramount stars, they only played in Paramount theaters.

Anti-trust laws decided that was a monopoly and basically said: movie production, distribution, presentation -- pick two. They picked the first two and spun the theaters off as separate companies. Now, instead of keeping all the ticket revenue, theater operators had to make deals with the film studios. And since they still controlled all the films, those deals were usually terrible. A movie theater might keep just a few percent of their revenue from tickets, especially early in a film's run (still generally the case). So they had to come up with a new revenue stream to stay afloat, especially considering the huge movie palaces of the time.

Popcorn, and concessions in general, were that stream.
posted by penduluum at 12:28 PM on July 22, 2016 [8 favorites]

For anyone wondering how to get real "movie theater butter popcorn" flavor:

Do the frying in canola oil, and add this stuff, which is what theaters use:

Flavacol, or as I call it "nectar of the obese gods."
posted by deadaluspark at 12:29 PM on July 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

For decades I had to bring my own nutritional yeast to the movies. Now, at some of the finest theaters near me, they have finally put out a yeast shaker on the counter! Sometimes life gets easier.
posted by kozad at 12:30 PM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

It occurs to me a person could whip up a small batch of popcorn balls, but instead of rolling it into balls, line a pan with it, let it cool, and use it as a crust for a chilled pie.
posted by sourwookie at 12:39 PM on July 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

Whirly-Pop, Orville Redenbacher popping oil, pure olive oil spray, Kernel Season's Bacon Cheddar topping. Mmmmmm.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:43 PM on July 22, 2016

My grandmother's father was apparently a very nice man, but a very shitty provider for his family. During one of his periods of unemployment, my grandma and her sister, who were about 7 and 8 at the time, went door to door with a little wheeled popcorn cart that he built for them.

My grandma and great aunt temporarily supported their family by selling popcorn in the streets in the 1920s, which is both awesome and depressing.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:58 PM on July 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


Concession stand workers look at me funny when I order a medium popcorn with extra Yellow.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:15 PM on July 22, 2016

I'm with Greg_Ace. Nutritional (NOT brewer's) yeast is the key, along with melted butter and salt, on whirly-popped corn.
posted by rouftop at 1:16 PM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I also eat embarrassing amounts of popcorn. I pop it in a weird, thick aluminum dutch oven that my wife bought at a thrift store. If I use another pot, I inevitably burn it. I use coconut oil for popping and top with olive oil, nutritional yeast, and a dash of salt. On the recommendation of (I think) someone on metafilter, I eat the popcorn with chopsticks. This improves my mediocre chopstick skills and keeps me from cramming fistfuls of popcorn into my face.
posted by Drab_Parts at 1:23 PM on July 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

keeps me from cramming fistfuls of popcorn into my face.

that's a bug, not a feature
posted by cooker girl at 1:24 PM on July 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

Butter and salt can't be beat on popcorn. Just those two, no substitutes, and I could eat many, many, many, MANY bowls of it.
posted by xingcat at 1:26 PM on July 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

keeps me from cramming fistfuls of popcorn into my face.

why would you want to do that?
posted by phearlez at 1:31 PM on July 22, 2016

This is one of my all-time favorite popcorn recipes, in a thread full of great ones: nutmeg cheddar popcorn!
posted by Greg Nog at 1:47 PM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

The recipe I was taught was one pinch of turmeric, a drop of oil, one teaspoon of brown sugar, and shake it until "it all looks the same color".

Now I want to see Jaws in the back of a '73 Dodge Coronet.
posted by Sphinx at 1:53 PM on July 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am pleased to see I am not the only person still making popcorn with a lidded saucepan over a stove burner. I use lard (I live in Greater Rednecklandia. Lard is the go-to fat in these parts.) to cook it in and top it with salt and garlic butter. (Garlic butter: Melt butter. Put two fresh cloves of garlic through a press, the resulting garlic goop goes into the melted butter. Allow this to warm but not boil or sizzle. (lower heat keeps the garlic sharp, higher heat mellows it. I want sharp, forceful garlics.) VERY GARLIC. Much wow. Pour whole thing over popcorn, straining is for wimps.)
posted by which_chick at 2:20 PM on July 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Does no one eat Red Vines/Twizzlers at the theatre but me?
posted by eclectist at 2:39 PM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I prefer a nice neat Twizzler to a sloppy, noisy bag of popcorn. But my father-in-law is a dentist, and he says that if you had to choose which was worse for your teeth, it would be pretty hard. He sees a lot of teeth that have been broken on popcorn. I know I've shattered at least two.
posted by Modest House at 3:02 PM on July 22, 2016

I'm with the commenters above who favor nutritional yeast and Hungarian hot paprika, and cumin, too!
posted by Agave at 3:09 PM on July 22, 2016

White cheddar popcorn + chocolate chips = A+
Goldfish + chocolate chips or M&Ms = A++++
posted by Hermione Granger at 3:30 PM on July 22, 2016

I find that popping in unrefined coconut fat gives me a movie theater popcorn taste. Delish!
posted by Foam Pants at 3:32 PM on July 22, 2016

No mention yet of using popcorn in place of crackers for soup?

Cheese soups, like beer cheese, or broccoli cheese, are frequently best served with lots of popcorn. A squeeze of lemon, fresh ground pepper, and oooooh. Yummy.
posted by yesster at 3:57 PM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have been precooking chopped bacon to make for some easier baked potato dinners (freeze it and nuke it until warm).
It has left me with extra bacon fat. I have been contemplating using it for pastry but yesterday it struck me that I could use it to make popcorn.
Then it struck me that I could use it to make kettle corn.
Sweet/Salty corn with a faint bacon flavor.
My first try comes tonight.

3 tablespoons bacon fat
1/2 cup corn kernels
1/4 to 1/2 cup white granulated sugar, to taste
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt

Heat bacon fat 'til it shimmers in a large pot with a tight lid.
Add sugar, salt and corn kernels. Put on lid and begin shaking the pot over the heat.
Keep the pot shaking over the heat until the pops peter out.
posted by Seamus at 4:15 PM on July 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

My grandfather used to stand over his popcorn with a fork and meticulously anoint melted butter on every. single. piece.

I have found a shortcut by using a silicone BBQ brush. I work in lasagne layers in a popcorn bowl -- hot popcorn, dribble on butter, grind on salt, mix, repeat until popcorn is all transferred to the bowl -- and it's fast enough that the popcorn is still warm when I bring it to the fam. I have a salt grinder just for popcorn. I have not diverged from this heavenly combination, and see no reason to do so, though I am a little tempted by the thyme recommendation.


Ah, at last I can give a name to my nemesis: the nasty fake butter popcorn flavor stuff. I'm sorry, different strokes for different folks, but, why? Whyyyyy?
posted by offalark at 4:17 PM on July 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

And sometimes popcorn is actually ice cream
posted by ericbop at 4:22 PM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just made kettle corn with bacon fat for the family.
Kid - loved it
Wife - would be better as regular popcorn
Me - meh. Might be better as popcorn. Would probably be better used on veggies.

Oh well.
posted by Seamus at 5:05 PM on July 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

So when I was growing up, I would make popcorn for the family on our gas stove in a big, heavy pot. I have refrained, lo all these many years, for fear of damaging my fancy newfangled flat electric ranges. Is this not a reasonable fear?
posted by Night_owl at 5:31 PM on July 22, 2016

Oh hello my people. Soy Sauce or Tamari (lightly sprinkled) and Nutritional Yeast (liberally applied). Good to share with your cats.*

Cats choice as to whether you share the same bowl.
posted by pipoquinha at 5:35 PM on July 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

You know, I thought the TJ's pickle popcorn was too much dill and not enough anything else.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:49 PM on July 22, 2016

Cooked on the stove of my grandparents VW camper, served with grape pop, playing crazy eights.
posted by furtive at 6:24 PM on July 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Going on a ramble here. I spent most of the late 80s and early 90s working at the small arthouse movie theater in the Michigan university town where I grew up (Go Green!). We showed a mix of films designed mostly to appeal to the local professors and intellectual landed gentry (French New Wave stuff, A Room With A View and everything else Merchant Ivory; Kieslowski, Wenders, Kurosawa, Fellini) along with the undergrads (midnight showings of Rocky Horror, Urgh! A Music War, etc) as well as stuff that was supposed to appeal to both groups (Laurie Anderson concert film, Repo Man, Stop Making Sense). You get the picture. Anyway one of the signature features of this theater was the authentic Real Butter! we put on the popcorn. This was a key selling point to the demographic of the town at that time which was simultaneously scornful of 80s yuppie consumer culture, yet eager to spend their money on items that defined their superior academic taste such as red bell peppers (rare in the midwest back then) and betamax machines. So all the educated professional class were super into the idea of "real butter" on their popcorn. One of the amazing and vexing features of my job there was that I had to do basically everything. At any given time there were at max two people working there, so we had to sell the tickets, sell the concessions, and at some point one of us would run into the projection booth and switch on the previews and semi-dim the house lights. There was a "higher up" dude who more or less did the programming, but sometimes he was too high to sort it out so I had to do that as well. Then I would drive to the local Greyhound station, which is how prints of films would get distributed in those days, and pick up the (usually) two heavy metal containers that held the celluloid print of the film that we were about to show. Then I'd drive back to the theater, wind them up on the splicing spools, and cut a few frames away in the course of conjoining the two reels. Then the connected long strip would get wound onto a new reel and loaded into the projector.*

Ok so yeah, popcorn. Another thing I had to do, because I did everything, was make sure that we had enough in the way of concessions to sell in order to make any money at all. Back in my day (not sure if it's still this way), theaters had to bid on prints and make an offer on how much of the box office they would return to the distributor. Because the prints were physical, there was a limit on how many were in circulation at a time, and the chains could obviously outbid the indies because they could offer close to 100% of the box office take back to the distributor (and usually 100% if not over for the opening weekend if it was going to be a hit), and they'd make it up on popcorn. Not to mention the fact that they had far more than our sixty seats per show. Remember we're talking about the hoity toity intelligentsia crowd who see themselves as above the rabble and not about to purchase sugar water coca cola devil soda, so not a lot of profit there. When we had a low bid on an upcoming Helena Bonham Carter flick (pre Tim Burton she was pretty much the patron saint of the Merchant Ivory crowd) we had to be sure that we could pull down enough profit off the concessions to keep the lights on. Thus, the pure butter claim on the popcorn. Now the popcorn we bought was something like $12 for a bag that was just at the limit of what I could lift out of the trunk of my car on my own. So basically A LOT of unpopped kernels.

One fundamental difference between movie popcorn and the kind you make at home is the color. We popped that popcorn in this totally solid-at-room-temperature orange-dyed coconut oil that came in a big drum. Those drums lasted forever but damn if they didn't dye everything they came into contact with this bright orange color (sorry about the trunk of your Dodge Dart, Mom!). Once we popped the corn in that it came out this nice slightly yellow-orange tinge, in the way that movie theater popcorn is supposed to look. And then we added the real butter.** I'm pretty much not going to be able to express the entitlement with which our patrons requested the real butter, but just imagine your most righteous Whole Foods shopper and multiply that by about six. And keep in mind we've just popped the corn in this weird orange sludge. The thing is, pouring real liquid butter on popcorn is basically melting the popped kernels into shriveled oily bits. But heaven forbid these paragons of taste would complain about the real butter! I imagine there's a way you could do it at home that works well, but we had this 50s-era device that looked all retro and cool in the lobby but it was total shit at distributing the melted fat, so everyone ended up with a carton of popped corn that was all soggy on top and had no butter towards the bottom. I don't know. During the lull between the shows I used to take two plastic straws and practice my chopstick skills on the popped corn in the glass box. I got quite good at it, actually. And then there was the time that the theater owner's son, who had just gotten out of jail, was working a shift with me and decided between showings that he wanted to have blonde hair, so on my Krogers run I picked up some bleach and he sold tickets in the booth for the 9pm show with a shower cap on his head with the bleach working its magic. Those were the days.

*My prior job, the one that got me the official cinema gig, was at the university's student film society. We were poor enough there that we couldn't afford any additional equipment and thus couldn't splice the reels, so I got a lot of practice in standing behind the audience, next to two projectors (one on, one off), awaiting the exact moment when one projector had to be switched on and the other one turned off. Simultaneously! Luckily most of those in attendance were pretty wasted and thus had a fairly liberal tolerance for jerky projection.

**Oh yeah, I was also in charge of making sure we had enough butter, and sometimes we'd run out after the 7pm showing so I'd have to run across the parking lot once I'd switched on the feature to the Krogers and get more butter to melt for the 9pm crowd.
posted by tractorfeed at 6:26 PM on July 22, 2016 [10 favorites]

OK. Where are my Bijou Theater Eugene Oregon people? Nutritional Yeast and Tamari on tap since the 90's.
posted by pipoquinha at 7:13 PM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I cook it in Kerrygold salted butter, then when all the kernels are popped I let the pan cool slightly and add a few spoonfuls of sugar. The sugar melts on the bottom of the pot and caramelizes. I stir vigorously so the caramelized sugar sticks to the corn. It gets very crackly and yum. Warning, you might need a few practice rounds to get this right.
posted by The Toad at 8:03 PM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

How do you keep the butter from burning?
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:45 PM on July 22, 2016

How do you keep the pan from getting woefully burnt and ruined, too? This plagues me when I make popcorn on the stove.
posted by mynameisluka at 9:10 PM on July 22, 2016

Berbere seasoning and nutritional yeast. And butter, obvi.

I have failed to be successful using anything but veg oil for cooking. Burning or very small pops have been the result.

The literal translation of popcorn in Chinese is like "corn flower."
posted by MsDaniB at 10:17 PM on July 22, 2016

My mind was most recently blown when I learned that you can make not already pre-bagged microwave popcorn using normal popcorn kernels in a brown lunch bag. I'm always left with unpopped kernels, but 3 and a half minutes with some pepper and salt and what have you in the bag gives an air-popper experience, but, you know, with a microwave. My go-to snack these days.
posted by Theiform at 10:22 PM on July 22, 2016

As long as everybody is giving their popcorn "recipes..." I like to salt the oil in the bottom of the pan and add tabasco sauce to the oil. Beware because the steam escaping before the corn starts popping is an eye irritant. I also eschew the fancier brands or popcorn for Jolly Time which for some reason is sold in the produce section of my usual supermarket and not the aisle with the popcorn that comes in bottles.
posted by lordrunningclam at 5:23 AM on July 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

mynameisluka Don't use too much heat? I've never had the bottom of my pot get burned and ruined.

A bit of oil on the bottom, medium heat, and batches smaller than the pot will hold so there's room for the corn to expand. Use a big pot, don't attempt popcorn in a small one, it will end badly. Pull it off the heat as soon as the corn slows in the popping, and dump into a container (I like brown paper bags, others like big bowls). You should end with just a bit of oil and a few hulls inside the pot, no scorching.
posted by sotonohito at 6:24 AM on July 23, 2016

We're growing popcorn in the garden for the second year in a row (last year's yield looks to eke out a sufficient supply to get us through to the next harvest despite a popcorn-hungry tween in the house). Corn is an inefficient crop for a smallish garden (the corn plot is maybe 10' X 4') but I just love to see it growing in the city. But sweet corn was just frustration, the squirrels always after it, the unappetizing incidence of half seeded ears from having a too-small a patch for full pollination of the perimeter stalks, the ongoing tragedy of discovering you've picked ears too late and are chomping starchy, mealy kernels instead of the transcendent sweet crunch of perfect sweet corn. All while the farmers markets, roadside stands and co-ops are selling it cheap by the bushel at peak ripeness. Nothing so disappointing as being forced to buy something you've semi-failed to grow yourself.

None of this matters with popcorn (well the squirrels still get into it but they don't seem to find it as attractive as sweet corn) - half seeded ears reduce the yield but the kernels pop up just the same, you let the ears dry thoroughly on the stalk so there's no exactitude in when to harvest. If an ear is buggy or gnawed on you can just cut off the affected part and toss it and throw the good in a paper bag with the rest to finish drying. Shucking it is a bit of a chore, but I'm looking forward to trying different varieties (last year was a Japanese white "hulless", this year a Dakota black kernel variety is looking good and loving the heat). I recommend it if you have the room.

Alton Brown notwithstanding, I'm an air-popper man all the way. Skip the oil and use more butter, and less dishes.
posted by nanojath at 10:08 AM on July 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

... 3 and a half minutes with some pepper and salt and what have you in the bag gives an air-popper experience, but, you know, with a microwave.

WARNING: You have to trial-and-error the microwaving time. If I nuked a bag of corn for 3-1/2 minutes, it would burn to charcoal. In my m-wave, 2 minutes, 10 seconds is the limit. Anything more burns the popcorn.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:22 AM on July 23, 2016

Air poppers turn regular popcorn into styrofoam IMO, although the Missus likes it. Heirloom popcorn comes out somewhat better, but nothing like the Whirley Pop.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:37 AM on July 23, 2016

I halve garlic cloves and add them to the oil with the kernels. When it comes out, the garlic is soft and melty and the parmesan sticks to it and it's just wonderful.
posted by goofyfoot at 2:50 PM on July 23, 2016

Best recipe: Greg Nog's Shake it up, shake it up (Backstory)
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:48 PM on July 23, 2016

I've been a huge fan of Hurricane Popcorn since the last time we talked about popcorn!
posted by Ashwagandha at 5:52 PM on July 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Currently typing one-handed due to the perfect bowl of Whirly Popped Mushroom Popcorn with butter and a homespun "elote flavor" mix, a combination of citric acid, salt, ground chile, and cotija.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:58 PM on July 23, 2016

Hurricane popcorn sounds delicious, but the photos on that page look like popcorn mixed with cigarette butts and ashes.
posted by moonmilk at 5:07 AM on July 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

There's nothing better than that, especially washed down with last night's beer dregs!
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:34 AM on July 24, 2016

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