Ever since a spate of popcorn "the old fashioned way" posts came out a year or so ago—The Times did a blog symposium, Bittman commented, Elise—I've wanted to weigh in on one critical point. Superbowl weekend is an apt time to do so. I make popcorn all the time, and the key point for me is getting all the kernals to pop within 60 seconds or so of each other. To do this, I start the kernels in cold oil. What's the rationale behind letting the oil get hot first? No one ever says. By the gradual heating and continual shaking of the kernels as they heat, they heat evenly and uniformly, and once they begin to pop, it's over in a flash.
What I really want, just once, is for every single kernel to pop at exactly the same time. So far no luck.
Another key point is to shake the pan continuously once the popping has begun so that all the unpopped kernels fall to the bottom of the pan where they can pop.
That's all there is to it, one of the best foods there is, period. How can people have stopped popping corn? I can barely fill a glass with ice water and melt the butter before it's over. The microwaved stuff is convenient and it tastes convenient. The smell is nasty (probably for a reason). For a while, my young son kept asking me for "pop popcorn." James, I said, why do you call it pop popcorn? He said, "No, POT popcorn." Popcorn that you cook in a pot. I'm sad we need to distinguish between the two. There is popcorn and there is microwaved stuff coated in grease and powdered flavorings that resembles popcorn and is favored by the young and the lazy.
Here are my quantities for four people:
1 cup popcorn
3 tablespoons of canola oil
2 ounces butter melted
Fine sea salt or kosher salt to taste
Combine popcorn and oil in a pot over high heat and cover. Swirl and hop the kernels frequently as they heat. Melt butter. Once the kernels begin to pop, shake the pan continuously until the kernels are poppled. Pour into a big wooden bowl, drizzle with butter, toss. Add salt to taste.
(When I don't want the butter, I add a teaspoon of chilli flakes to the cold popcorn and oil;
if you received some truffle salt for Christmas as I did—thanks annie!—try it on popcorn, it's awesome.)
However you season your oil, if you drizzle the hot popcorn with butter or with bacon fat or regianno, make POT popcorn and make it often and life is better.