Perfect Popcorn

Popcorn02_thumb6I attempted to make homemade popcorn last night, using a recipe that was aired on Good Eats the other day. It involves a stainless steel bowl, a pair of tongs, tinfoil, popcorn, oil and salt. You put everything in the bowl, cover the top with tinfoil (poke a few holes in it), use the tongs has a handle, and cook the popcorn on the stove, much like the method used for Jiffy Pop. The genius behind this method, as explained in detail on Alton’s show, is the structure of the bowl. The kernels fall to the small surface at the bottom of the bowl, while the light fluffy popped corn rises to the top, keeping it safe from becoming overcooked and turning into charred pieces of nastiness.

The plan started out well enough – the kernels were popping, creating those little indentations on the inside of the foil that only an exploding kernel can create – steam was properly escaping from the steam vents I’d poked in the tinfoil – and the “pop” sounds were happening with reasonable frequency. All in all, it should have taken approximately 3 minutes to pop my 1/2 cup of kernels. However, about 90 seconds into it, the popping stopped. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Was I not shaking it enough? I began shaking more vigorously. Not enough oil? I’d used two tablespoons, so that should be ok. Then the smoke started to form. At first it looked like the aforementioned steam, but the wispiness of form and distinctive smell of burnt popcorn gave it away. I quickly took my popcorn contraption off the stove, turned off the heat and whipped on the overhead fan. Then, I debated on whether or not to open the foil. As the smoke pillowed out, I thought there might have been some salvageable pieces in there – but if I didn’t act quickly, the smoke would saturate and ruin those as well. I went for it. I slowly peeled off the foil, to see a pristine bowl of fresh white popcorn at the top, accompanied by the foul smell of burnt popcorn coming from below. I grabbed another bowl and began the transfer; only then truly unveiling the damage I’d down to those poor bottom bunk kernels. Most were half popped, and charred beyond recognition. They crumbled to dust when I tried to pick them out.

Managing to salvage about half of the kernels, I placed the bowl and charred remains in the sink to soak. Then, I consulted the internet to determine what I’d done wrong. It was a quick find to Alton Brown’s Perfect Popcorn recipe – the name of the recipe was taunted me as I picked through the remains of my not so perfect popcorn and searched for my mistake. Then I saw it – “medium heat”. Of course! I’d put my stove on high. I’m not sure if I did it because I thought that was correct, or if I just wanted a quicker return on my kernels, but either way, it ended up a smelly, charred mess. At least I know my error, and can try again with the correct directions. But it doesn’t help any with my mistake last night – my house still smelled of burnt popcorn this morning.


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Mom to "C", wife to Ben. I'm a part-time blogger, cook, organizer, seamstress, house cleaner, taxi, nurse (the mom kind), accountant... I could go on, but really... it's all in the blog. Read away!

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