Ode to My Pantry: Popcorn

Learning to feed yourself can be one of the most terrifying things. Am I about to give myself food poisoning? If I eat this too often will I end up with scurvy? How can I get the most nutritional bang for my buck? Why does this still taste like ass?

With Ode to My Pantry, learn to navigate a grocery store without having a meltdown in aisle three. Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a queer to cook and stave off malnutrition for another semester.

OdetoPopcorn

I fall a lot asleep during movies. Like a lot, a lot a lot. I have a list of movies I’ve watched with asterisks beside the endings I’ve seen and let’s just say it wouldn’t be mistaken for the Milky Way anytime soon. But this summer I vowed I would make it through a few more movies so I could finally understand why friends keep saying, “IT’S SO FLUFFY! I’M GONNA DIE.” But I’d need something to keep me awake. So I figure, why not eat something that’s so fluffy, I’m gonna die?

If you popped yours at home and didn’t have eight billion screens to distract you from the popper, those tiny explosions were  the closest thing to magic your kid-self experienced. Take a handful of hard seeds, heat them up and all of a sudden you had a bucket of fluffy white goodness. What kind of sorcery was this? I’ll admit now that my interest back then only extended so far as the bottom of the bowl. Or the overpriced stand at the movie theater.

Even though popcorn seems dry, there’s a little bit of moisture trapped within its shell (and in the endosperm to be exact). When you start heating the kernels, the water begins to boil and turns into steam. The pressure builds up until the hull cracks and the boiling hot endosperm is exposed to the normal atmosphere. The resulting pressure drop causes the formerly crammed together starch to inflate and solidify as it rips the shell to shreds.  Think whipped cream. Think hair mousse. Think expanding foam. So while you once had a handful of rocks, you now have a bunch of inside-out ones.

Kernel

To get your corn inside-out, you’re going to have to get the moisture moving. Air poppers are fantastic if you’re looking for a healthy option to pack away your breakables, but they take up a shitton of room and will probably leave you craving something oily anyways. If you’re sporting a microwave there are aisles upon aisles catering to you, or you can even make your own bagged corn for a fraction of the price. You can also go the Jiffy Pop route if you want some camping nostalgia. But when it comes to stovetop-popping, simply heat up a few tablespoons of oil with a high smoke point (peanut or canola is great) in your largest pot and pop away. Just be sure to shake and shake often so you don’t end up creating a pot of charcoal.

Popcorn is the de facto grain when it comes to airy consumption, but it isn’t the only popable substance you have in your pantry. However, there are only a few grains that work. You’re looking for something with a hard husk  to keep the expanding endosperm in place. Sweet corn? Too soft. Dent corn? Still too soft. Barley? Rice? Oats? Not for the temperature we’re workng with. Quinoa? Millet? Sorghum? Amaranth? These are the closest grain with popping prowess, so if you’re corn-averse, load it up into your air popper and give it a go. Just keep in mind that the other grains are relatively smaller and lighter, so you’ll want to add a bit more kernels to ensure they don’t fly out.

But one of the biggest problems that beguiles popcorn eaters isn’t the bottom of the bowl or the rank smell of microwave failure, it’s the little sad remnants of popcorn that never got to be. Old maids never contained enough water to produce enough steam to fulfill their fluffy destiny, so don’t turn the rest of the pot into martyrs by continuously cooking your kernels. They’re a cooking nuisance, but they can also be a snacking hazard. My girlfriend had a gum graft done earlier this year and I naively started Googling procedural stories, hoping to find tales of sunshine and rainbow fairies using sparkles to cure people of their dental woes. Unfortunately I found this. Let’s just say I was permanently relieved from Florence Nightingale duty and was petrified of eating popcorn for a few months. So if you want to figure out how to make your snack safer, you’re going to have to start dealing with popcorn shrapnel.

Popcorn

If you’re making it in the microwave, hold off on venting it right away! Not because you’re about to blast you face with diacetyl-laced steam, but because that unassuming paper void is everything you’ve ever needed in life.

Invert. Shake. Extricate.

Unless you somehow managed to seal up the hole, it’ll be the perfect size to let the old maids fall through. Same concept goes for Jiffy Pop, turn the foil into a kernel filter by piercing a small hole to try to shake out the seeds. If you were going the old fashioned route and popping  in a pot, just graab a cooling rack and pretend you’re a prospector looking for golden kernels. Either way, your mouth (and gums) will be a little bit safer. (Or you could just buy some 1978 Orville Redenbacher.)

Bowl after bowl of popcorn tends to be boring (especially when you have so many fucking movies to watch). So popcorn salt and non-butter alternatives are always waiting to be tested.

  • Nutritional yeast: There’s a 99% chance you already know about the cheesy B12-laced goodness a few shakes can bring if you’ve ever dabbled in veganism.
  • Chili lime: One of my favourites; squirt your popcorn bowl with half of a lime and a generous sprinkling of the spiciest chili powder you can handle. Or you can just buy a bottle of Tajin and save a step. 
  • Dulse flakes: It’s like purple briney salt flavoured with MSG.
  • Old Bay Seasoning: Because everything should taste like a lobster boil
  • Kale crumbs: Because sometimes I fail at making kale chips and you have to do something with the leftovers.
  • Bacon Salt: Or any other number of seasoning salts.  Cajun popcorn? Fuck yeah.
  • Gomashio: Sesame seeds, soy sauce, nori and sometimes bonito. What else do you need?
  • Wasabi: I wish someone would share this with me.
  • Curry powder: Throw on all the spices and you can always make it sweet.

If you prefer your pop a little bit sweeter, you can candy your own corn! You can go full out and build a caramel from sugar, corn syrup, butter and baking soda or simply add some sugar to the popping pot for your own attempt at kettle corn. Or use cinnamon sugar or cinnamon hearts to make a spicy-sweet treat. If you wanted something more akin to KERNELS, the over-priced popcorn stand that’ll forever tease my childhood memories, you can colour your own corn by adding food colouring to a syrup. Given that popcorn flips inside-out anyways, you should ignore anyone that tell you to buy vividly coloured kernels.

Rainbowpop

Pride Popcorn via Sakida

Happy popping! Just make sure you’re wary about the corn shrapnel.

Avatar of Kristen

Hailing from Vancouver, Kristen's still trying to figure out how to survive Montreal's Real Legitimate Canadian Winter. So far she's discovered that warm socks, giant toques and Tabby kittens all play a role in her survival. Her ultimate goal is to rank higher than KStew in the "Kristen + Autostraddle" Google Search competition.

Kristen has written 140 articles for us.

12 Comments

  1. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    this weekend i attended a wedding and as a “midnight snack” (which is apparently a thing people are doing at weddings, it comes after the dessert and is something i can 100% get behind) they served spicy popcorn. i don’t really know what it was — jalepeno seasoning? something magical? — but it was super delicious and perfect to munch on while dancing to “don’t stop believing” with the happy bride. in short yay popcorn, etc.

    • Thumb up 3

      Please log in to vote

      Pop the corn just with a bit of oil, empty the pan, take pan off the heat, put a teaspoon or two (or more) of honey in the bottom, put pan back on the heat and put the popcorn back in, stir everything together and get delicious honey popcorn on your feet. Definitely a high risk of goopy burnt mess, but doing it a bit at a time might help.

  2. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    My family discovered the wonder of microwave popcorn when I was fourteen and we moved and spent two weeks in one of those extended-stay hotels, which gave us free popcorn in much the same way ordinary hotels give you free baby shampoos. Before that, we didn’t have a microwave so we went through a couple of air poppers and then found Jiffy Pop. Jiffy Pop is great fun (except when you get an expired or off batch and the tinfoil doesn’t puff up all the way with popped popcorn, which is terribly disappointing). I miss Jiffy Pop, but I’m afraid I’d scratch up my family’s glass-top stove if I made it now. Also, the microwave is faster. Alas for my childhood (or that little bit of it, anyway).

    Although, what would REALLY be cool would be to have one of those little home-size movie theater popcorn machines.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.