If your popcorn comes ready-made in a cellophane bag, or you toss a bag of popcorn into the microwave before the big game starts, you're cheating your taste buds out of enjoying the wonderful flavor and texture that can only come from gourmet popcorn .
What Is Popcorn?
Popcorn, short for popped corn, is not just any corn. It's made from Zea mays everta, a special variety of corn known for its short ears and its odd properties that cause it to burst open into those tasty buds we all love to eat. The reason popcorn 'pops' is because of a higher than normal moisture content inside the kernel, and a harder then normal kernel, or shell, surrounding that moisture.
As the temperature inside the kernel rises, the water expends and turns to steam. When the kernel can no longer resist the internal pressure, it explodes. Inside of the kernel is also a layer of starch. When the kernel explodes, and the superheated starch is exposed to the air, it expands into thin bubbles. These bubbles are attracted to each other, fuse together, and 'pop' it's time to eat!
What Is Gourmet Popcorn?
There is 'gourmet popcorn,' and 'gourmet popped corn.' And it's more than a matter of semantics. Gourmet popcorn refers to the type of corn used. Gourmet popped corn refers to the flavorings you add to the popcorn once it has been cooked.
What's The Best Gourmet Popcorn To Buy?
There are no labeling guidelines or laws that determine which popcorn brands can be labeled 'Gourmet,' so you're on your own here. There are several popular brands of popcorn on the shelves, as well as brands that are less well known but are often just as good.
Experiment with different ones until you find your favorite. But do not you dare buy that popcorn that comes in the aluminum foil pan that you heat on the stove. You want popcorn that's been kept away from excess moisture and that is as fresh as possible. And for that, you need popcorn that's stored in a jar.
If you want true gourmet popcorn, then you'll have to hit the Internet or gourmet food stores. Look for organic, hull-less corn. The hull, that dark center inside every kernel, is all but missing in the hull-less varieties.
Some good brands include Black Hills, Riehle's, and Amish Country Popcorn. If you try the Amish brand, you should definitely order a jar of 'red' and a jar of 'blue'. It's not about color, it's about taste and texture. The red is a bit more crunchy than the average popcorn, and the blue is naturally sweet with a very strong corn taste.
Here's Where The Gourmet 'Popped' Part Comes In
Gourmet popped corn is popcorn that's flavored with spices or other ingredients. Because there is no way for the flavoring to penetrate the hard kernel, the process of turning ordinary popcorn into gourmet popcorn, begins when things get popping!
Depending upon the type of flavoring and cooking equipment used, the gourmet ingredients are added either during the popping process, or after. Forget hot air poppers or microwaves. True gourmet popcorn has to be cooked in hot oil in order to bring out its full flavor. You can either heat oil in a pan, or use an electric hot oil popper.
The electric models have a hot plate that you light coat with a tablespoon or two of oil. The unpopped kernels, one-third to one-half of a cup, are spread on top of the plate, and a tall see-through cover goes over it all. Plug it in and a little automatic arm moves the kernels around to keep them from sticking or burning. After a couple of minutes, the popping begins and that wonderful aroma fills the room.
Most electric poppers have a perforated indented area on the top of the cover you can use to drip liquid flavorings into the popcorn while it's popping. It's also a good spot to lay a slab of seasoned butter, because the heat will cause it to start melting around the same time the corn starts popping.
If you are seasoning your popcorn with dry ingredients, or wet but sticky ingredients like maple syrup, caramel, or other sugar-based substances, you need to wait until the popcorn is transferred into the serving bowl before adding them. If you're going to cook popcorn on the stovetop, here's how to do it:
– Choose a covered pot tall enough to hold the cooked popcorn. One-half a cup yields 3 to to 4 quarts depending upon how fresh the kernels are.
– Pour 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable, canola, or gourmet popcorn oil into the pot and set it uncovered over medium heat.
– Drop one kernel into the oil, cover the pot, and wait for it to pop.
– Remove the cover and quickly pour the remaining kernels into the pot. Watch out for hot oil splatter!
– Gently shake the pot over the flame until one kernel pops. Then replace the cover and keep shaking the pot to keep the kernels from burning.
– When the popping begins to get fast and furious, tip the pot away from your face and body, and tilt the cover open slightly to let some steam escape. Then replace the cover and keep shaking until the popping slows down noticeably. Be careful you do not scald yourself when the steam escapes!
– Do not wait until the popping stops altogether, or you'll end up with burned popcorn on the bottom of the pan.
Whether you're cooking stovetop, or using an electric popper, dump the cooked popcorn into a serving bowl, add your gourmet flavorings, mix to coat, and dig in! Of course, eating gourmet popped corn requires adding gourmet ingredients. And there is virtually no end to the ingredients you can add.