Recipes: Making popcorn really pop

You have a choice of movies, so don't settle for plain old popcorn. Creative options include (back row from left) Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Popcorn, Sushi Popcorn, Olive Oil Popcorn with Garlic, Rosemary, and Parmesan; and (on their sides from left) Deluxe Movie Night Popcorn, Curry-Lime Popcorn, Frito Pie Popcorn and Hurricane Popcorn. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)
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You have a choice of movies, so don't settle for plain old popcorn. Creative options include (back row from left) Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Popcorn, Sushi Popcorn, Olive Oil Popcorn with Garlic, Rosemary, and Parmesan; and (on their sides from left) Deluxe Movie Night Popcorn, Curry-Lime Popcorn, Frito Pie Popcorn and Hurricane Popcorn. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

How to turn this ubiquitous snack into the life of the party

A night out at the movies would be incomplete without popcorn. A bowl of freshly popped kernels can make a night curled up on the couch in front of the television feel special, too.

This occurred to me on one of many such homebound evenings during the pandemic. Rummaging through cabinets for something to munch on that might mimic the cinema experience, I spotted a jar of popcorn that had been sitting on a shelf untouched for years. I dumped the kernels into a big aluminum pot old school-style with some oil and, to my amazement, they popped up as fluffy as ever!

Sure, I could buy a bag of popcorn already popped, salted and flavored in all kinds of ways. But popping it myself is so much more rewarding. It’s cheap for one thing: A 30-ounce container of Orville Redenbacher’s Original Gourmet Popping Corn sells for about $6 and yields nearly 150 cups! And I get a little thrill shaking and jiggling the pot around and hearing that first pop, then another, and then a steady flurry as toasty aromas fill the kitchen.

This entire action takes all of about five minutes. And best of all, I can control every aspect, from the kind of oil and salt I use and how much, to the popping method, to whatever enhancement I want to throw in.

To rev up my popping skills, I followed some online tips for re-creating movie theater-style popcorn at home. With its slow smoke point (about 350 degrees) and smooth, delicately sweet taste, coconut oil ensures the kernels pop up nice and crispy (though other neutral oils also work well). Butter-flavored seasoning salt, rather than melted butter, keeps the popped kernels from going soggy. Clarified butter, or ghee, accomplishes this as well without artificial colors or flavors. It’s also important to use a fine salt that adheres to the kernels.

Much as I appreciate popcorn in its purest form, I’ve also been experimenting with some fun variations. Hurricane Popcorn is a new favorite. It’s basically a glorified, umami-rich version of sugar-sweetened kettle corn popular in Hawaiian movie theaters and featured by the Maui restaurateur and “Top Chef” finalist Sheldon Simeon in “Cook Real Hawai’i” (Potter, $35).

Follow either that recipe or the more traditional version, or get creative by trying one of the variations presented here. Or play around with the contents of your spice rack and cupboards to come up with your own concoction.

Get ready to start the movie — or the party.

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With Deluxe Movie Night Popcorn, you can add your favorite concession snack. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

With Deluxe Movie Night Popcorn, you can add your favorite concession snack. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)
caption arrowCaption
With Deluxe Movie Night Popcorn, you can add your favorite concession snack. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Deluxe Movie Night Popcorn

Movie theaters typically pop their popcorn in coconut oil enhanced with an artificially flavored and colored seasoning called Flavacol that lends a butter flavor while keeping the popped kernels from turning soggy. You can buy Flavacol online, but you can also achieve this the natural way by clarifying the butter for tossing (methods are online), or using ghee, a type of clarified butter commonly used in Indian cuisine and now widely available in supermarkets. And be sure to use a fine-grained salt that will stick to the warm morsels. To further enhance the cinema-like experience, toss some of your other favorite concession snacks right into the same bowl.

3 tablespoons coconut oil

1/2 cup unpopped popcorn kernels

1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) clarified butter or ghee, melted

Fine sea salt to taste

Optional mix-ins: Twizzlers cut into bite-size pieces, M&M’s, pretzels or other favorite movie concession snacks

In a 6-quart pot, melt the coconut oil over medium-high heat.

Test the heat of the oil by adding 3 kernels of popcorn to the pot. Once they pop, add the remaining kernels to cover the bottom of the pot in a single layer. Swirl the pot to coat the kernels in the oil.

Cover the pot, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and lower the heat to medium. Lift and shake the pan frequently while the kernels pop.

After about 3 minutes, when the popping slows to once every 2 to 3 seconds, remove the pot from the heat and continue to shake for a few minutes until the popping has stopped.

Pour half the butter or ghee over the popcorn, cover, and shake the pot to coat. Pour the remaining butter or ghee over the popcorn and sprinkle with the salt. Cover again and shake.

If desired, toss in your favorite concession-stand snacks. Season to taste with more salt, and toss again.

Makes 12-15 cups.

Per 1-cup serving, based on 12: 100 calories (percent of calories from fat, 72), 1 gram protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 8 grams total fat (5 grams saturated), 10 milligrams cholesterol, 31 milligrams sodium.

Deluxe Movie Night Popcorn
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) clarified butter or ghee, melted
  • Fine sea salt to taste
  • Optional mix-ins: Twizzlers cut into bite-size pieces, M&M’s, pretzels or other favorite movie concession snacks
  • In a 6-quart pot, melt the coconut oil over medium-high heat.
  • Test the heat of the oil by adding 3 kernels of popcorn to the pot. Once they pop, add the remaining kernels to cover the bottom of the pot in a single layer. Swirl the pot to coat the kernels in the oil.
  • Cover the pot, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and lower the heat to medium. Lift and shake the pan frequently while the kernels pop.
  • After about 3 minutes, when the popping slows to once every 2 to 3 seconds, remove the pot from the heat and continue to shake for a few minutes until the popping has stopped.
  • Pour half the butter or ghee over the popcorn, cover, and shake the pot to coat. Pour the remaining butter or ghee over the popcorn and sprinkle with the salt. Cover again and shake.
  • If desired, toss in your favorite concession-stand snacks. Season to taste with more salt, and toss again. Makes 12-15 cups.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per 1-cup serving, based on 12: 100 calories (percent of calories from fat, 72), 1 gram protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 8 grams total fat (5 grams saturated), 10 milligrams cholesterol, 31 milligrams sodium.

VARIATIONS

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You can spice up movie night at home with Frito Pie Popcorn. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

You can spice up movie night at home with Frito Pie Popcorn. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)
caption arrowCaption
You can spice up movie night at home with Frito Pie Popcorn. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Frito Pie Popcorn: Toss 10-12 cups freshly popped popcorn with 4 to 6 tablespoons melted butter, several good handfuls of Fritos, and 2 tablespoons chili powder. Spread out on baking sheets. Sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese and chopped scallions. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 3-5 minutes, just until the cheese melts. Season with salt and serve warm.

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Should you have popcorn OR a chocolate snack with your movie? You can have both with Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Popcorn. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Should you have popcorn OR a chocolate snack with your movie? You can have both with Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Popcorn. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)
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Should you have popcorn OR a chocolate snack with your movie? You can have both with Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Popcorn. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Popcorn: Pour 10-12 cups freshly popped popcorn onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Melt a heaping 1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate or semisweet chocolate chips in the microwave, drizzle over the popcorn, and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt. Toss, taste, and add more salt if desired. Allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes for the chocolate to harden (or refrigerate for a few minutes if you’re in a hurry).

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Give your evening a gourmet twist with Olive Oil Popcorn with Garlic, Rosemary, and Parmesan. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Give your evening a gourmet twist with Olive Oil Popcorn with Garlic, Rosemary, and Parmesan. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)
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Give your evening a gourmet twist with Olive Oil Popcorn with Garlic, Rosemary, and Parmesan. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Olive Oil Popcorn with Garlic, Rosemary, and Parmesan: Heat 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil with 1 tablespoon minced garlic in a small saucepan over medium-low until sizzling, about 2 minutes; reduce heat to low and stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary. Drizzle over 10-12 cups freshly popped popcorn; toss to coat. Add 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few grindings black pepper; toss again. Serve immediately. (Adapted from a recipe from Southern Living.)

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Take your taste buds on an adventure with Curry-Lime Popcorn. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Take your taste buds on an adventure with Curry-Lime Popcorn. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)
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Take your taste buds on an adventure with Curry-Lime Popcorn. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Curry-Lime Popcorn: In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons coconut oil and stir in 1 teaspoon each grated lime zest and mild or hot curry powder and 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt. Pour over 10-12 cups freshly popped popcorn and toss well. If desired, toss in some coconut flakes (sweetened or unsweetened, toasted or untoasted) and 1 tablespoon or so nutritional yeast.

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Another way to liven up movie night is Sushi Popcorn. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Another way to liven up movie night is Sushi Popcorn. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)
caption arrowCaption
Another way to liven up movie night is Sushi Popcorn. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Sushi Popcorn: In a small bowl, mix together 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, and 1 teaspoon each soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and rice vinegar. Drizzle over 10-12 cups of hot popcorn, mix in 3 cups Asian wasabi snack mix, and shake well.

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Cinnamon-Sugar Popcorn is great for movie night or breakfast. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Cinnamon-Sugar Popcorn is great for movie night or breakfast. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)
caption arrowCaption
Cinnamon-Sugar Popcorn is great for movie night or breakfast. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Cinnamon-Sugar Popcorn: Toss 10-12 cups freshly popped popcorn with 2-3 tablespoons melted butter or spray with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon granulated sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste, and toss well. For extra crunch, spread in a shallow roasting pan and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 5 minutes. Serve immediately, or the next morning in a cereal bowl with milk and sliced bananas or dried fruit.

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If you're watching a movie with a tropical setting, get in the spirit of things with Hawaiian-inspired Hurricane Popcorn. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

If you're watching a movie with a tropical setting, get in the spirit of things with Hawaiian-inspired Hurricane Popcorn. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)
caption arrowCaption
If you're watching a movie with a tropical setting, get in the spirit of things with Hawaiian-inspired Hurricane Popcorn. (Styling by Susan Puckett / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Hurricane Popcorn

“The Hawaiian movie theater experience is not complete without a big bag of hurricane popcorn: hot buttery kernels, roasted sesame seeds, crispy roasted seaweed, and just the right kiss of sugar,” writes Sheldon Simeon in “Cook Real Hawai’i” (Potter, $35). Tossing in handfuls of breakfast cereal or pantry snacks turns it into a full-blown party mix, and baking the mixture after tossing with butter makes it extra-crispy.

Hurricane Popcorn
  • 1/4 cup neutral oil
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter (or add a pinch of salt if all you have is unsalted)
  • 1 tablespoon shoyu (soy sauce), plus more as needed
  • 1/2 cup Furikake (recipe follows)
  • 1 1/2 cups arare (rice crackers), pretzels, animal crackers, breakfast cereal, or a combination
  • Heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a 6-quart pot, heat the oil over medium heat. (If you don’t have a pot that large, halve the recipe and make it in batches.)
  • Once shimmering, stir in the sugar and popcorn kernels and cover. Shake the pot constantly to keep the sugar from burning. The corn will start popping vigorously.
  • Once the popping has slowed to once every 2 to 3 seconds, remove the pot from the heat and continue to shake for a few minutes until the popping has stopped.
  • Pour into a very large bowl and allow to cool, stirring occasionally to break up any clumps.
  • In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the shoyu (soy sauce) and furikake. Add the rice crackers and/or other additions to the popped popcorn and pour the seasoned butter mixture all over, tossing to coat.
  • Spread the mixture out on a large baking pan and bake until dry and crisp, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring once or twice.
  • Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Makes about 16 cups.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per 1-cup serving: 212 calories (percent of calories from fat, 39), 4 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 10 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), 8 milligrams cholesterol, 446 milligrams sodium.

Adapted with permission from “Cook Real Hawai’i” by Sheldon Simeon and Garrett Snyder (Potter, $35).

Furikake

A sprinkle of this Japanese dry seasoning blend of seaweed, sesame seeds, and dried fish flakes is a quick way to add rich umami flavor to popcorn or practically any dish that could use some excitement. It’s sold ready-made in Asian markets but it’s also easy to make yourself with this recipe adapted from “Cook Real Hawai’i.”

Adapted with permission from “Cook Real Hawai’i” by Sheldon Simeon and Garrett Snyder (Potter, $35).

Furikake
  • 2/3 cup roasted or raw, white sesame seeds
  • 3 sheets unseasoned nori (dried seaweed), about 1/4 ounce
  • 2 tablespoons dried bonito flakes
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • In a dry pan or skillet, toast the raw sesame seeds over medium heat until golden, about 2 minutes. (Skip this step if seeds are purchased roasted.)
  • If nori sheets aren’t crisp enough to crumble easily, carefully toast them for a few seconds by waving over a gas flame or placing them under a broiler.
  • In a food processor, combine the toasted sesame seeds, nori, bonito flakes, sugar, and salt. Pulse 8 to 10 times or until the mixture is well blended.
  • Store in a sealable container in a cool, dry place for up to 1 month. Makes about 3/4 cup.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per teaspoon: 17 calories (percent of calories from fat, 65), 1 gram protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace fiber, 1 gram total fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 85 milligrams sodium.
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