Do the Stovetop Pop: Popcorn in a Pan

Ahh, popcorn. So light, so versatile, its starchy fluffiness and soft crunch make it a blank canvas for any number of flavors and, of course, our favorite movie time snack.

In the convenience of the modern age, many of us have forgotten the simple, wallet-friendly pleasure of stovetop popcorn, as it has instead become all too closely associated with that darned microwave.

And although it is, in its purest form, high-fiber, low-calorie, whole grain goodness, beware that box of cellophane-wrapped bags. Microwave popcorn is a far cry from healthy, typically containing various chemicals and high levels of fat and sodium from its artificial flavoring.

A chemical in fake butter flavor called diacetyl (as well as its more recent substitutes) has even given way to the potentially fatal “popcorn lung,” affecting hundreds of factory workers and even a couple of consumers (Thomas, 2010). Duke University Dean Bill Chameides warns of the dangers of PFOAs, used to coat the paper bags.

So—next time you’re in the mood to pop, consider going stovetop. It’s a lot easier than you think, and allows you the freedom and creativity to coat your kernels with any number of sweet, salty and spicy flavor combos.

The Technique:
Just like perching by your microwave, carefully listening for that evasive moment between two and three minutes, timing is key for great, golden pan popcorn. Other secrets are getting the oil good and hot, cooking the kernels uniformly and evenly distributing any spices or flavors you’d like to add. Here’s how it’s done:

Step 1: Line a deep bowl or basket with paper towels. Coat the bottom of a high-edged pan with 3 tbsp of oil on medium-high. Add just a few raw kernels and cover.

Use an oil with a high smoke point—canola and peanut are common options; I personally love coconut (virgin, not partially hydrogenated!), which lends a light creaminess to the corn.

For just yourself or to share with a friend, go for a 3-quart pan. If you’re entertaining, you’ll need a 4-quart+. Each 1/3 cup of raw corn makes 2 quarts popped, which feeds one or two. Take care that all of your kernels will easily fit in one layer.

Step 2: Once the kernels begin to pop, pour in your desired amount of corn and spices/flavors, toss to coat evenly, and cover. The popping should begin within 10 seconds.

Step 3: Continuously shake your pan from side to side along the burner to keep the kernels from sticking. If your lid doesn’t have a steam vent, keep it slightly askew to release the moisture (comes out crispier that way!).

Step 4: Once you reach that pivotal moment from your microwave days and popping slows to more than a few seconds apart, remove from heat and promptly pour into your lined bowl.

Flavor’n’spice suggestions: Salt and black pepper (or sugar), cayenne and cinnamon, hot sauce, [real!] butter, chile powder, infused oils, dried herbs, worstechire sauce…the possibilities are limitless.

For all you garlic lovers, I must share an invaluable tip from a friend: Throw a whole head of separated, unpeeled (or “shake” peeled!) cloves into the pan at the beginning. You’ll find a perfectly roasted surprise in every few handfuls!

 

Sources:
Chameides, Bill. (2010, June 15). The chemical marketplace series – PFOA. The Green Grok. Retrieved from http://www.nicholas.duke.edu/thegreengrok/pfoa

Thomas, Carolyn. (2010, January 9). Microwave popcorn: (still) bad for you. The Ethical Nag. Retrieved from http://ethicalnag.org/2010/01/09/micro-popcorn/