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Top of the pops

Cheese, herbs, and even hot peppers dress up plain popcorn for the Oscars.

By Adam Ried
February 27, 2011

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The film industry has always had its famous pairs – Abbott and Costello, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Joel and Ethan Coen, just to name a few. But the most elemental pairing of all, I would argue, is movies and popcorn.

Plain popcorn is fine for daily movie duty, and there are easy ways to season it – for instance, with some curry powder or chili powder or that old standby, nutritional yeast. But with the Oscars upon us, what better excuse to up your popcorn game? These recipes are all winners.
Parmesan-Black Pepper Popcorn

Makes about 2 quarts

2 quarts hot, freshly popped popcorn

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or melted butter

1 teaspoon ground black pepper, or more to taste

¼ cup finely grated Parmesan

Salt

In a large bowl, sprinkle the popcorn with the oil or butter, and toss to coat the popcorn. Add the pepper, Parmesan, and salt to taste, toss, and serve at once.
Crunchy Toffee Popcorn

Makes about 2 quarts

Peanuts, pecans, almonds, or macadamia nuts make a nice addition to this popcorn. But don’t double this recipe – it doesn’t cooperate.

2 quarts hot, freshly popped popcorn

2 cups nuts, lightly toasted and cooled, optional

6 tablespoons butter

¾ cup packed light brown sugar

3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

Salt

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment and set aside. Place the popcorn and nuts, if using, in a very large heatproof bowl, and set aside.

In a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the brown sugar, water, corn syrup, and ½ teaspoon salt, and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally (the mixture will be bubbly and foamy in the pot), until the mixture thickens and registers 290 degrees on an instant-read or candy thermometer, about 11 minutes. Off heat, stir in the vanilla. Working very quickly, pour the mixture over the popcorn (and nuts, if using), and fold until the popcorn is evenly coated. Spread the mixture out on the prepared baking sheet, break up clumps, and cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes, and serve.
Rosemary-Garlic Popcorn

Makes about 2 quarts

This recipe makes enough infused oil for 2 batches.

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 5-inch sprigs rosemary, roughly chopped (about 2 tablespoons)

2 cloves garlic, smashed

Salt

2 quarts hot, freshly popped popcorn

2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan, optional

In a small saucepan, combine the oil, rosemary, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Set the pan over medium-low heat and cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Set the pan aside off heat to infuse the oil and cool, about 30 minutes. Strain the oil, pressing on the solids to release as much oil as possible. In a large bowl, sprinkle the popcorn with 2 tablespoons of the infused oil, and toss to coat the popcorn. Add salt to taste and the Parmesan, if using, toss, and serve at once.
Chipotle-Pumpkin Pie-Spiced Popcorn

Makes about 2 quarts

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 teaspoon brown sugar

¼ teaspoon chipotle powder, or more, to taste

¾ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

2 quarts hot, freshly popped popcorn

Salt

In a small bowl, beat the melted butter, brown sugar, chipotle powder, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves to blend (make sure that the brown sugar dissolves fully).

In a large bowl, sprinkle the popcorn with the butter mixture and salt to taste, toss, and serve at once.
Spicy Jamaican Jerk Popcorn

Makes about 2 quarts

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

1 clove garlic, minced

½ teaspoon ground allspice

½ teaspoon finely minced Scotch Bonnet or Habanero pepper

1 teaspoon grated lime zest

2 quarts hot, freshly popped popcorn

Salt

In a small bowl, beat the melted butter, brown sugar, thyme, garlic, allspice, Scotch Bonnet pepper, and lime zest to blend (make sure that the brown sugar dissolves fully).

In a large bowl, sprinkle the popcorn with the butter mixture and salt to taste, toss, and serve at once.
Buffalo-Blue Cheese Popcorn

Makes about 2 quarts

Both the blue cheese and the hot sauce are salty, so go easy on the extra salt.

1½ tablespoons butter, melted

2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce

¾ teaspoon celery seed

1½ tablespoons crumbled blue cheese

2 quarts hot, freshly popped popcorn

Salt

In a small bowl beat the melted butter, hot pepper sauce, celery seed, and blue cheese to blend.

In a large bowl, sprinkle the popcorn with the butter mixture and salt to taste, toss, and serve at once.

Send comments or suggestions to Adam Ried at cooking@globe.com.

  • February 27, 2011 cover
  • Feb. 27 cover
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KITCHEN AIDE
The great popper debate

My hot-air popper went away in a tag sale years ago, so now when I want popcorn, I cook it either in the microwave or on the stove top. Each has its benefits: For the microwave, they are sheer ease and relative neatness, and for the old-fashioned stove top routine, it’s that faint roasted flavor and extra degree of crispness (which are, admittedly, more important if you’re eating the popcorn plain).

Both methods are simple. On the stove top, heat about 2 tablespoons of canola, safflower, or grape seed oil (all three have a high smoke point) with 3 or 4 kernels of popcorn in a large, covered saucepan or wok over medium-high heat. As soon as those kernels pop, take the pan off the heat, add 1/3 cup kernels, replace the cover (very slightly ajar, if possible) and shake. Return the pan to the heat, adjust to medium, and cook, shaking the pan constantly, until the popping has almost stopped, the last pops coming a few seconds apart.

In the microwave, I like the paper bag method. Simply put 1/3 cup popcorn kernels in a medium-sized paper bag (larger than a standard lunch bag), fold the top several times, and microwave on high until the popcorn pops and the popping has almost stopped, the last pops coming a few seconds apart. Exact timing depends on your microwave; in mine, it takes about 3 minutes 20 seconds. Be careful not to overdo it or your popcorn will burn. Both methods produce about 2 quarts of popcorn.