I love popcorn. I make it often. I make really good popcorn. Some of this method I learned from my friend Kassie Maneri. She and her family are expert popcorn makers, one of the million reasons I’m grateful they are in my life.
Over the years I have made a lot of popcorn and honed my skills. Even so, it’s a practice each time to get it just right. You have to pay attention.
Here’s what I use:
- heavy bottom pan (I use a Revereware saucepan that looks like this. Maryellen (Maneri) says it seemed important to have a loosely fitting lid to let the steam escape. Makes sense!)
- usually organic popcorn, usually yellow, but white is great too.
- oil (canola, grapeseed, or coconut or olive oil, if you like the flavors–but usually the popcorn turns out more crispy with grapeseed or canola or possibly coconut oil. Olive oil would be my last choice but it could work.)
- butter (dairy or vegan), salt, pepper, nutritional yeast, etc. (see below)
- a wee big bowl (Derry Girls reference!)
Here’s what I do:
Cover the bottom the pan with a layer of popcorn, then add oil. Until recently I used canola, but switched to grapeseed oil, which seems as good, probably better. Add enough oil so the kernels are covered and glossy but not swimming. Leave the pan uncovered, and turn on the heat—on my gas stove, I turn it to level 6 (of 10) on the dial. (Medium high, I guess.) Keeping the pan level, swirl the pan on the flame (or heat) pretty much continually (or as frequently as you can). This will allow the kernels to begin to sizzle and change color to golden. (Kassie referred to this as bronzing. That’s the best way to describe it.) The goal is that all the kernels are at the same basic stage of cooked-ness, if possible. Keep swirling! Once the first kernel or two pop, put on the lid, and turn up the heat to level 8 (high but not full blast). Let the corn pop, continuing to swirl and move the pan until the popcorn is near the lid, the carefully pour out most of the cooked popcorn to allow room to cook the rest. The idea is that you are letting some steam out, which will keep the popcorn crispier. (I’m not a food scientist but I think that’s part of the magic.) Once all the kernels are popped, empty the popcorn into the bowl. Use the same pan to melt a pat or two of butter. I sizzle the butter till it’s clear, for best flavor. Drizzle on the popcorn, then sprinkle salt, flipping or mixing the popcorn so the decorations are evenly distributed. I have recently begun adding many twists of fresh ground black pepper—till it’s visible and it takes a lot of pepper!—this makes it even better. And nutritional yeast is fine, too, if you like it, but sometimes I appreciate the simplicity of butter and salt. Adding all four items sometimes tastes slightly like cheese puffs, which is nice if you are feeling decadent. (Or just shred some cheese over the popcorn, for serious luxury.) Practice makes near-perfect.
If you try this method, please do report back and let me know how it goes. Or share your favorite recipe! My friend Tia said if you put a tablespoon of sugar into the hot oil, you will get kettle corn. I tried this and it was wild and amazing and delicious.
p.s. I immortalized the Maneri popcorn on p. 129 of my novel, The Eight Mile Suspended Carnival:
While everyone settled onto wooden benches, Suspender took the motor from its shelf, and plugged it into the air wire. He fed the reel into the praxinoscope, and flipped a switch. The machine sputtered, flickered. Then pictures. Lo-Lo brought the roll-cart, laden with pans of popped corn, and carnies grabbed handfuls into their laps. “All hail the Maneri method!”
“Oh, what glory to be entertained,” Nelda said. “And fed.”