Cost: incalculably low, as a 500g bag of popcorn costs about £1, and makes a vast amount, about 8 stock pots of popcorn. Also it’s hard to measure a serving size as whether it’s just a snack for the two of us, or served with drinks before a dinner party, or put out in bowls on every surface before a party, we seem to just keep going with it until there isn’t any left…
This popcorn is not only delicious, it is extremely economical and much healthier than the fancy crisps we used to buy.
Normally, if we were having folks round for a casual dinner, I’d always pick up a large bag of crisps on the way home (sour cream and chilli Kettle Chips, if you were wondering) and by the time I was chopping things up, or at least when I’d got to stirring pans, or maybe once or twice when I was wondering how to heat the plates, I’d have ripped into the bag and kept coming back for more, leaving at most a bowl for our guests.
And actually, especially since I was made redundant at the start of this year and we’re having people over more rather than eat out, the crisp habit really starts to pile up (in more ways than one…) and in terms of economising, finding substitutes for highly processed foods is pretty much always a mighty win for us.
Hence popcorn, and it’s so easy and tasty that I can’t recommend it enough. I’ve been asked several times what goes into it, and it took quite a few goes for me to fumble my way towards this solution.
Firstly, you don’t need a fancy machine or even any dedicated equipment, just a large pan with a lid (ideally transparent but not essential) and a handle of some kind. A saucepan or stock pot is fine.
Making plain or even salted popcorn is straightforward from here, just heat a splash of oil, teaspoon of fine salt and a small amount of popcorn (about 25g per person, or a quarter US cup for two people…this makes about two cereal bowls) over a high heat with the lid on, shaking the pan occasionally. You will hear it pop, after about a minute, and there will be a bit of rapid-fire rattling…when it eventually slows, wait until there are no pops for 20 seconds, shaking the pan a bit so it doesn’t burn, then take off the heat and enjoy!
However, things get a bit trickier in the pursuit of sweet-salty popcorn. I don’t think sweet-salt really counts as a trend any more, given that I remember food articles rhapsodising over salted caramel in the run up to Obama’s election…the first time, so by now perhaps it counts as an institution. In any case, as far as popcorn goes, I would assert that the synergy of sweet-salt makes popcorn over twice as good as simply sweet or plainly salt. But adding sweetness is tricky because of the need for heat (which burns the dry sugar black if it’s added with the salt) and dryness, which is destroyed by caramel.
A note on caramel: I did try a couple of these recipes, encouraged by memories of vacuum-packed toffee popcorn as a child, but including caramel, apart from using another pan, needing proper care and attention and being epically messy, is mega calorific, and after seeing the quantity of sugar and butter called into action for coating a small batch of popcorn, it’s sort of hard to enjoy eating it.
The solution: adding sugar just after taking the popcorn off the heat, but not caster sugar, which falls into soft dunes at the base of the pan, leaving the popcorn relatively unsweetened, but icing sugar, only a few dessert spoons of which invisibly permeate a whole pan of popcorn to create sweet-salt balanced bliss.
What else? After trying spices from chilli to cinnamon via cumin, paprika and even curry powder, my favourite addition is a teaspoon of paprika, ideally the smoked kind, added at the start with the corn and salt. A teaspoon of butter along with the oil brings a savoury nuttiness to the party. And there we go. No need for a recipe. But if it helps…
Recipe: Sweet-Salty Spiced Popcorn
75g popcorn (most supermarkets. Not the microwave stuff, the cheap kernels in a bag, often with the pulses or the Caribbean section at my local)
Splash of cooking oil (one or two tablespoons, it doesn’t need to coat the whole pan, the popcorn shouldn’t be greasy at all)
1 tsp butter, optional
1 Tbsp table salt, or to taste
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground dried chilli, optional
2 dessert spoons icing sugar
1. Heat all ingredients except sugar in a large lidded pan over a high heat
2. Shake pan occasionally until popping stops (no pops for around 20 seconds)
3. Remove from heat, immediately add the icing sugar and shake well to combine.
Enjoy! All the sweet-salty satisfying crunch of crisps, but much lower fat and sugar levels. The popcorn kernels keep for ages, so it’s great to keep in the storecupboard and quick to pop up a batch at short notice.