Last I checked, popcorn hadn’t yet gone the way of toilet paper and bread yeast, so I think it’s safe to say you can still enjoy this particular creature comfort during the coronavirus pandemic. But let’s see if we can’t spruce it up a little bit, food-nerd style.
In case you don’t already have a popper, I heartily endorse the Whirley-Pop. It’s a quaint, old-timey monotask device, which would ordinarily get it summarily banned from my kitchen. But it works so darn well I just can’t resist keeping it around. A couple tablespoons of your oil of choice (coconut for me), half a cup of kernels, three minutes on the burner and you have two nice big bowls of popcorn. Plus, if you have kids, turning the crank is probably more entertaining than the show or the popcorn.
The toppings, however, are where it really gets fun.
Here are five popcorn topping recipes from my personal arsenal. Each makes roughly enough topping for two big bowls, though depending on how strong you like it, your mileage may vary.
Honey curry butter
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 4 tsp honey
- 1 tsp curry powder
- ½ tsp salt
Combine ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for about 30-45 seconds, or until the butter is mostly melted. Remove from the microwave, cool for one minute, then whisk vigorously to combine. As it cools further, it will reach the consistency of light caramel. While still warm, drizzle over freshly popped popcorn and toss.
Easy to throw together from spice cabinet staples, this one brings a bit of salty mala fire that works with or without butter. Note: if you don’t have much experience with Sichuan pepper, that tingly numbing sensation is not only normal, but intentional. And as you’re toasting the Sichuan pepper, try to pick out any seeds that haven’t been removed. They’re flavorless and gritty. The hulls are the part you want to eat.
- 3 whole dried chile peppers
- 2 tsp Sichuan pepper
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp ground ginger
- Melted butter, to taste (optional)
- Chile oil (optional)
- Toasted sesame oil (optional)
In a small skillet over medium-low heat, toast the chiles and Sichuan pepper, tossing frequently, until fragrant but not burned. Finely grind them in a spice grinder, then mix with the garlic powder, salt and ground ginger, then sprinkle over popcorn that has been dressed with butter, if you like.
If you really want to go next level and you have an oil popper, add a few drops of chile and/or sesame oil directly to the popper before popping the corn. A little goes a long way.
Everybody loves Old Bay on their popcorn, and I’m no exception. But while Old Bay implies a seafood boil, I kind of always wanted to work in some actual seafood. And I finally figured out how. Bags of tiny dried shrimp are a staple of many Asian cuisines, and readily available at Asian markets or online.
- 1 Tbsp dried shrimp
- 2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
- Melted butter, to taste
Run the dried shrimp through a spice grinder until they’re pulverized into a light, feathery snow. Mix with Old Bay and sprinkle over buttered popcorn.
Garlicky parmesan herb
You don’t have to stick with dried spice. Fresh is great, too!
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 3-4 fresh basil leaves, minced
- 1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, minced
- ¼ cup grated parmesan or pecorino cheese (or a mix ... why choose?)
- Salt, to taste
In a very small saucepan, combine olive oil and minced garlic over medium-low heat and cook until the garlic sizzles, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool for a minute, add the herbs and stir. Drizzle the seasoned oil over the popcorn, dusting with grated cheese and salt.
People tend to think of fennel in a savory context, but it’s gorgeous when sweetened and goes perfectly with butter.
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- Melted butter, to taste
In a small skillet over medium-low heat, toast the fennel seeds, tossing frequently, until lightly fragrant but not discolored. Grind them to a powder in a spice grinder, then mix with the sugar and salt and sprinkle over buttered popcorn.
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