How Not to Burn Stove Top Popcorn

How Not to Burn Stove Top Popcorn

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    Most Americans won’t enter a movie theater without a bucket of popcorn in hand, and for good reason: we discovered long ago that the huge movie screen, the utter darkness of the room other than the images projected onto the screen and the excessive volume of the soundtrack combined with the sticky residue of days-old spilled sodas and dropped pieces of candy covering the floor can lead to brain hemorrhages that the simple constant act of chewing can prevent. That’s why popcorn was invented.

    Of course, the ancient Indians of New Mexico started eating this most popular of snacks thousands of years before the conception of cinema, but I’m sure they also cheerfully munched down fistsful of popcorn while enjoying whatever passed for entertainment in that day. We contemporary Americans “borrowed” the idea long ago and now it’s a multi-billion dollar industry. And though our heads will not explode if we watch a movie without popcorn, we still seem incapable of doing so.

    Back in the “old days”, when I was a kid during the little-known Crustaceous Period, when crabs ruled the world, we used to pop our corn over the stove. Then technology showed us a better way with air poppers that required no oil; the only problem was that we always wound up with more popcorn on the floor than in the bowl. That method was replaced by microwave popcorn, which once again relies on heating oil to pop the corn and automatically adds butter “flavoring” to every kernel.

    Everyone with a nose has smelled the foul dregs of the overly generous use of microwaves on popcorn. The stench permeates each niche of every room, absorbed by every fabric in the house. Even if you stand right over your microwave oven while the popcorn is doing its thing, you still wind up with a number of scorched kernels that you usually don’t notice until you bite into them with a grimace. What’s more, even if you burn half the bag by overexposure to radiation, you still wind up with several dozen un-popped kernels, or duds; not to mention that microwave popcorn costs about twice as much as buying it in a jar or bag.

    So, for the sake of cheap, quality popcorn without fake butter, without several burnt pieces that you can’t detect until it’s too late and without having to force your Uncle Wilbur out of the kitchen so his pacemaker doesn’t quit on him, many of us have reverted to the old fashioned way of popping corn… and many of us still can’t get it right. Fear not, for if you follow these directions, you’ll always have a perfect batch of popcorn with only a few un-popped kernels and not so much as a single singe mark.

    • Select a pot (with a lid) large enough to accommodate the number of popcorn eaters; if you’re making it just for you, pick a small one; if popping corn for a dozen people, do it in a large pot (with two handles; not a kettle) and do two or more batches. If possible, choose a pot with a thick bottom that will distribute the heat evenly.
    • If cooking over an electric stove, preheat the burner on High.
    • Place the desired amount of butter or margarine into a microwave-safe dish, order Uncle Wilbur out of the kitchen and nuke the butter until it’s melted; if you can’t stand ousting Uncle Wilbur, melt the butter in a well-supervised saucepan on the stove over a medium-low heat.
    • Stopper the kitchen sink and add at least an inch of cold water to the basin.
    • Add just enough oil to the pot to cover the bottom; place the pot on the stove and heat the oil over High heat. (A common mistake when making stovetop popcorn is using a medium heat in the hopes that the kernels won’t burn; in reality, they’re more likely to burn because they have to remain in contact with the heat for a longer time.)
    • Add enough popcorn to cover the bottom of the pot before the oil begins to smoke; cover and tilt the pot in all directions to coat every kernel with oil.
    • Leave the covered pot on the High burner until the first kernel pops (never leave the pot unattended); then grasp the pot’s handle with one hand and place the other on top of the lid (you may need to use oven mitts; if using a large pot with two handles, hold the handles and keep the lid on with your thumbs); begin to shake the pot forward and backward, side to side over the burner. Make sure the pot remains in contact with the burner and keep the popcorn moving constantly as it pops.
    • Occasionally shake the pot up and down to dislodge any kernels that may stick to the bottom of the pan; return to the burner immediately.
    • Once the popping stops quickly transfer the pot into the water-filled sink basin for an impressive show of boiling bubbles and flash-steam; do not remove the pot from the water until the hissing stops (which should only take a couple of seconds).
    • Wipe the bottom of the pot before dumping the popcorn into a large bowl for buttering.

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