Closing in on perfect theatre popcorn

7 Jul
It's easy to make perfect popcorn at home - plus it costs less and is much better for you. (Geoff Meeker photo)

It’s easy to make perfect popcorn at home – plus it costs less and is much better for you. (Geoff Meeker photo)

By Geoff Meeker

July 7, 2014 – Almost two years ago to the day, I told you about the West Bend Stir Crazy Theater Popper, a cute looking device that purportedly makes popcorn as good as what you get at the movies.

In that column, I attempted to come up with the perfect recipe for theatre-style popcorn and, in so doing, offered a most grievous error. When I said that the cheaper, generic, no-name popcorn varieties were every bit as good as the expensive name brands, I was mistaken. There was not a kernel of truth in it.

My claim was based on a decades-old belief that may once have been true but certainly isn’t now. You see, after that review I continued my quest to develop the perfect popcorn recipe, experimenting with different oils, popcorn brands, salts and cooking methods.

Which brings me to my other mistake: I gave a tentative, qualified endorsement in 2012 to the West Bend popper. I’d like to downgrade that to a total rejection.

Yes, the machine works as described. It pops an okay bit of corn, if you follow directions. But there are three major downsides: the machine is too big for convenient storage, the batches of popcorn are far too small and it is too difficult to clean.

The West Bend theater-style popcorn popper is a sweet-looking appliance, but ultimately is not recommended for serious popcorn connoisseurs. (Geoff Meeker photo)

The West Bend theater-style popcorn popper is a sweet-looking appliance, but ultimately is not recommended for serious popcorn connoisseurs. (Geoff Meeker photo)

The Theater Popper is a gimmick, really, and cannot replace a good old five-quart saucepan for batch size, easy stowing and quick clean-up. I came to this realization fairly quickly, as my popcorn recipe evolved to the point that the West Bend device – which pops one small serving at a time – couldn’t keep up with household demand.

Around the same time, it became apparent that not all brands of popcorn were the same. We tried the cheaper generic brands, as well as the Nativa organic brand sold through Shoppers Drug Mart, but were disappointed every time. They generally tasted okay but did not pop consistently and – most importantly – were tough and difficult to chew.

If you are serious about your popcorn, the Orville Redenbacher brand is really your only option. They are always tender, with a light crunch that quickly gives way to a soft, absolutely delicious munch.

Which brings me to the ultimate purpose of this column: to share the stovetop popcorn recipe that I have developed over the last two years, through painstaking trial and error.

Before starting, you will need to pick up some coconut oil (unrefined) and a tub of Flavacol. Neither of these are truly essential, but they do add a special something that elevates the flavor – and sends you back to the kitchen for a second batch while the family pauses the movie.

While coconut oil is widely available, Flavacol is not. The secret ingredient that makes popcorn taste so “moreish” at the theatre and video store, Flavacol is only available at B&B Sales on Kenmount Road Extension. Expect to pay about $18 for a 2-lb. container – enough to last for years, even under heavy use.

I use a five-litre saucepan but you can use a smaller pot if you like – just use slightly less ingredients. And always make sure you have the lid ready to go. Do not start looking around for the lid after the popcorn has started popping. And do not ask why I know this.

Put two tablespoons of coconut oil and one tablespoon of canola oil in the pot and place over medium-high heat. Add one teaspoon of Flavacol and swirl it around in the oil to dissolve as much as possible. (You can use regular salt and get excellent results. However, it’s grainier, doesn’t dissolve as easily and doesn’t taste as good as Flavacol.)

Place three kernels of popcorn in the oil. When they pop, the oil is ready. Add enough popcorn to cover the bottom of the pan. That’s it – just one layer deep. Not two or three layers, trust me. And do not ask how I know this.

Place the lid on the pot and when corn starts popping, shake the pot back and forth vigorously enough to keep the popcorn moving (this prevents scorching). Keep the lid on but allow steam to escape. When popping slows to less than one pop per second, pour the popcorn into bowl(s) and enjoy. There should be no need to add additional salt.

I don’t add melted butter because the oil and Flavacol provide more than enough flavor and butter can make it soggy.

If you try this recipe – or improve upon it – and have a comment, please offer a comment below.

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