I made popcorn on the stovetop tonight. To me, this is the only way to have popcorn at home.
Many years ago, my friend Karen Kowalski showed me how to make stovetop popcorn just right. I had (very) recently moved to Chicago and into the strange-but-cheap building where I paid just $420/month. Karen chose the same building for the same reason, and we met one night because she heard me crying in my apartment all the way from inside own her apartment. In the fuzzy, despair-soaked fury of my tears, I heard a little “knock-knock” on my door. I opened it to find radiant, twenty-something Karen looking at a scrubby, wet, twenty-something me with deep concern and compassion.
“Do you want a beer or a cigarette or something?” she asked. We were pretty much best friends after that and we lived in that building for two years, more or less together, sharing our units like one space.
We were broke. Karen was an AmeriCorps teacher, I was a poet and a waitress. Pride kept us from asking our parents for anything — my mom bailed me out exactly once on rent and Karen never even asked her folks. We did fine, though, and we had good snacks on Friday night to go along with our bourbon + Cokes. Karen showed me one of those Friday nights that the best popcorn is made on the cheap, on a gas stovetop with a pot and some muscle. Here’s how it goes in ten easy steps:
Karen’s Stovetop Popcorn (serve with bourbon + Coke for everyone)
1. Set out a big bowl for your popcorn. Have it nearby your little work station. Then, get a big metal pot with a lid. An actual stockpot is a bit large; go with a large soup pot.
2. Put in some olive oil. Generous tablespoons, roundabout. Heat the oil a minute or so. Get it hot. Keep your flame on high and be careful: you’ve got a flame on high.
3. Put in popcorn kernels. You’ll make a lot of batches before you figure out how much popcorn to put in, but note that the kernels always seem to make more popcorn than you figured. So err on fewer kernels than you feel like eating. It’ll come out about right and if you don’t put in enough, hey, just make more when you’re done with the first batch.
4. Put the lid on the pot. Get some potholders or some oven mitts; grab hold of the lidded pot on either side.
5. Swoosh it all around.
6. Lift the pot up a bit and rotate it side to side and around a bit so that your flame hits the bottommost edges of the pot. You’re going for a pressure cooker, here, and this helps get the pot heated high, heated evenly. It also means the kernels inside the pot are getting coated with the oil.
6. Set it back down on the flame. The do the rotate pick-up again. Just work with it. Feel it.
7. When the popcorn begins to pop, smile. It’s happening!
8. Listen carefully and continue to manipulate your pot. Watch that flame. It’s gonna be going gangbusters. You also need to make sure your lid doesn’t pop right off with all that beautiful white, fluffy, oily corn coming up the sides. Yum! When the popping winds down and you hear just one…one more…pop…p-p-paaaaap, then you quick as a wink, throw the lid into the sink and you DUMP that corn into your big bowl. We do not want singeing corn.
9. While the corn is still hot and the oil hasn’t all seeped in, yet, salt generously.
10. Enjoy hot, with a bourbon + Coke, while Karen tells you about her crazy family. You are so lucky right now.
In my search for an image for this post, I discovered Popcorn.org, which is exactly what you might imagine: an association for makers and distributors of popcorn and popcorn-related products. Everyone needs a voice; the popcorn industry’s no different. I had some fun there, especially when I spied the association’s “Encyclopedia Popcornica.” “Popcornica” is a delicious, ridonkulous word that someone has to use somehow on a large scale so we can all go ’round saying it. (Any aspiring sci-fi novelists out there? Popcornica might be a character name or a distant galaxy. It’s yours! Go!)
On the Popcorn.org site there are FAQ’s and projects, and there’s a blog that is maintained with sincere dedication by a person named Nicole. Week after week, though there are few comments to encourage her in her task, there are posts about one thing: popcorn. Usually, Nicole posts recipes, and they all sound fantastic, including the pictured Adobo and Peanut Roasted popcorn, the Coconut Ginger Popcorn Truffle, etc.) But there are glimpses into Nichole’s life, too (e.g., she fell off her diet, she watched the Times Square ball drop with friends Susan and Todd, etc.) and then you also get her perplexing/fascinating take on things like winter:
“Could it be that winter is the new summer? Once defined as a time of quiet hibernation, winter has come into its own, in a social sense.”
Hm. I’m open to this idea. I need more. But I’m open, Nicole. You bring popcorn, I bring the beverages. See above.