Don’t call it a grain. It’s more than just food. And, please, don’t refer to it as a mere snack. Popcorn is so much more. Really, to me, it’s a drug. But, like…a good, healthy drug, like soma (no hangover!) from A Brave New World.
This is the way I like it: Made, by me, in a pot. I’m not too particular about the brand, but tend to favor either Orville Redenbacher’s or Whole Foods’ organic bulk. I cook it in canola oil and then add salt and nutritional yeast. (What, you think that’s weird? Excuse the name-dropping, but so did actress Chloë Sevigny, a fellow popcorn lover, who wrinkled up her nose at me during an interview when I told her about my secret ingredient. But I defy anyone, celeb or plebian, to try it and not like it.) Sometimes, I add butter or Bay Seasoning or cayenne pepper with soy sauce. These are tried-and-true formulas, believe me. The combination of salt, fat, crunch and chew is so sublime that they are more than the sum of their own parts.
I sometimes marvel at the sublimely odd shape of a popped kernel like it’s a double helix. The science of popcorn is nature’s way of saying that anything those fancy molecular gastronomy chefs dream up is mere child’s play. Mother Earth (sure, with the help of centuries of human hybridization) created popcorn so that there is starch, moisture and oil within a hard husk. The husk doesn’t yield to high heat, so the moisture turns to steam and the starch gelatinizes. Eventually, the outer shell ruptures and the inner starch turns itself inside-out because the sudden drop in internal pressure, combined with the expanding steam, produces a foam that cools and becomes the puff I love and adore. (Yes, there will be a quiz later.)
Of course, not all popcorn is created alike. Microwavable popcorn is fine if you can’t cook your own, but there’s a wide spectrum of quality. The ACT II line, for instance, is said to be made with butter but that stuff is better off sold as roofing product. When I have to buy microwaveable, I look for Paul Newman’s.
And if you want to get technical, most sweet and/or packaged popcorn is doomed from the start, because they use what’s called the “mushroom-shaped” popcorn; you know, they’re much rounder, uniform and taste more like Styrofoam peanuts. Homemade popcorn is usually “butterfly-shaped;” irregular, ugly, and oh-so-good.
As for movie popcorn, I try to be practical. Often, I will eat the stale garbage they sell—it’s better than nothing—but it’s a little like smoking oregano, if you know what I mean. When I can, I smuggle in the good stuff. Like I said, it’s a lot like a drug.
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