Our microwave has four auto buttons: Time Cook, Time Defrost, Auto Defrost, and Popcorn. And for several years, stocked with cases of Costco microwave popcorn, I used that fourth setting. And then at some point we stopped buying microwave popcorn and started buying it like we all did years ago: In bulk, with hard, loose kernels that weren’t encased in a butter-flavored bag. And it’s not only cheaper, it tastes so much better.
We use a Whirly-Pop. Here’s the very complicated recipe I make almost every night when the kids beg: some olive oil (maybe 2 or so tablespoons) to lightly coat the bottom of the Whirly-Pop. 1/4 cup popcorn dumped in. When it starts popping, turn the handle until it stops; then pour it in a bowl. Very, very complex. I often add more complexity by melting a little butter and drizzling that on top of the bowl of popcorn, sprinkling some salt, and shaking the bowl. Crazy, I know.
I timed it this weekend, and the whole thing takes five minutes, so about the same time as microwave popcorn. And it’s pretty much error-free; you don’t have to hover and guess when the corn’s popped enough, but not so much that the bottom of the bag will be black and it stinks up the kitchen. And it tastes like popcorn used to taste.
Phil’s been raising the bar late at night, after I go to bed, by periodically popping a batch of corn in bacon fat. I can’t comment, as I have fears of my heart stopping if I started eating things cooked in bacon fat. (It gives the popcorn a really subtle bacon flavor. –Ed.) I instead love the mild flavor added with infused oil. Like rosemary: Just add a couple of sprigs of rosemary to half a cup of olive oil, heat it gently, remove it from the heat and let it sit in the pan for a couple of hours, and then remove the rosemary sprigs. I keep this in the fridge, but you could keep it on the counter and just use it more quickly. It gives the popcorn a really subtle rosemary flavor
I’ve recently read articles about popcorn being the perfect healthy snack for scientific reasons I don’t get. I’ve also read articles about some of the potential health dangers from microwave popcorn. We eat stovetop popcorn because it’s delicious.
Popcorn is one of those foods, like hard grocery store peaches made to ship safely, that I think have morphed so we no longer know how good they used to be. Microwave popcorn approximates the popcorn my mom made when I was a kid, but once we started making real popcorn again, I realized how very wrong the taste from the bags is. It’s five minutes well spent.