Thursday, June 30, 2011

Stove Top Popcorn

Susan Pachikara (COPYRIGHT 2011)

I don't know if you've heard, but a study just released by researchers at Harvard found that Americans who snack on potato chips pack on the pounds. Frank Wu, one of the study's authors, said the results help illustrate that there are in fact 'good' and 'bad' foods.

I love potato chips. But with the obesity epidemic raging across the country, perhaps it's time we found a new national snack food. I nominate homemade popcorn. It's crunchy, filling, and fun, and possesses the power to release the inner child in even the grumpiest adult.

Let me clarify what I mean by 'homemade' popcorn. I'm talking about popcorn that is made over the stove or in a popcorn popper layered with a bit of oil. I am not referring to microwave popcorn with its musty, dusty aroma. At my last job, I dreaded mid-afternoons when a very kind-hearted colleague would nuke up a bag and perch it on the edge of his desk. A synthetic smell hung in the air for the rest of the day. At one point, our director burned a bagful of popcorn in the microwave. The smell was so piercing that the maintenance man paid us a visit, fearing a toxin had been released five floors away. An off-putting odor plagued the kitchen for weeks.

The experience makes me worry for people who feed on microwave popcorn. Many brands contain partially hydrogenated oil and other spooky sounding items like TBHQ and propy gallate. (I wish I was making this up.) It costs two to three times as much as homemade popcorn, takes nearly as long to make, and worst of all, pales in taste. Like a bad toupee, microwave popcorn is an obvious impostor that will leave you craving chips.

Americans devour old-fashioned popcorn at the movies and savor it at the park. It's a shame that we shy away from it at home when all it takes to make the playful, fiber-rich treat is a steel pot and lid, some corn kernels, and a dusting of salt. A reasonably priced popper will also do the trick. (I nabbed the Stir Crazy for half price when Carson's closed on State Street a few years ago. I can make a delicious bowl of popcorn with just a dab of oil.) Both options allow you to control the salt and fat content.

The good news is that one you're comfortable making plain popcorn, you can move on to fancier versions. It's lovely popped in flavored oils and encrusted in a sprinkling of sugar. Believe me, once you get going you'll forget the chips.

Susan Pachikara (COPYRIGHT 2011)


Makes 4 cups


1 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 cup corn kernels
Salt to taste


Place a steel pot on a burner and coat the bottom of the pot with oil. Heat to medium-high.  

Add the corn kernels and cover.

Listen as the kernels start to pop slowly at first and then rapidly. Remove from heat when the popping slows to about a pop every two seconds. Do not wait until the last kernel pops, as the rest of the popcorn will burn.

Pour the popcorn into a bowl and dust with salt.

Advance purchase required!
Book your Chicago Food Tour today!
buy tickets at zerve
or call Zerve at (800) 979-3370

1 comment:

  1. Here's how I make 'homemade' popcorn in the microwave: measure out a serving of kernels and give them a light coating of olive oil (I use my Misto spray bottle for this). Put them in a brown paper lunch bag, tightly fold-up the top to seal it, then put it in the microwave on its side and nuke it until popping subsides. Open the bag, add salt (I recommend popcorn salt), shake, and serve.

    The downside of this method is it's not as effective at popping, so there are always a good number of "old maids" leftover. But that's a small price to pay for the speed & convenience of microwave popcorn. Plus it's cheaper, and there's no weird chemically smell or taste like the store-bought bags.

    It definitely won't be as good as your stove-top popcorn, but it is tasty, and still healthier than most alternative salty snacks.


Share your thoughts!