Monday, April 19, 2010

On Popcorn

I love popcorn. I love, love, love it. I eat it 3 or 4 times a week and it's my favorite snack.

When I was a kid popcorn was one of the few snacks we had around (the other was chips and salsa which I also ate copious amounts of). My mom would make a batch using the old Stir Crazy popper or the Hot Air popper and everyone had a bowl. The popcorn was usually just salted in those days. Every once in a while some tub margarine was added or parmesan cheese. My dad used take his bowl and add some garlic salt to it. Garlic salt on popcorn is absolutely wonderful. We had popcorn at least 2 or 3 times a week. The only time we didn't have any was around Christmas because we always had dentist appointments on December 27th or 28th because my dad was off work from Christmas until the new year and we were, of course, out of school.

When I was 16 I got a job at a movie theater. I'm not tooting my own horn here, but I made the best movie theater popcorn in Wichita. I had all the tools necessary, a 30 year old popper that added flavor even without the coconut oil, an understanding of the basics of popcorn and Flavocol. Any fool can make popcorn in a movie theater. The popper squirts the correct amount of oil in and the popcorn scoop is the size of the amount of popcorn you should add and you add a tablespoon of Flavocol (which is just butter flavored salt, but may as well be crack to moviegoers). But, I took things further, I filled the popcorn scoop only 2/3rds full and doubled the Flavocol, that way each popcorn kernel got more coconut oil and more Flavocol. My popcorn was simply wonderful.

I ate so much movie theater popcorn from the time I was 16 until the time I left the movie theater around age 19 that to this day, I don't eat movie theater popcorn. Ever since they stopped using coconut oil the popcorn just isn't as good and I don't like popcorn that has been sitting around. I will only eat it if it comes straight from the popper. While I worked at the theater I picked up a couple of specific tastes for popcorn. First, I lived the dream, I used to squirt a bunch of the fake butter stuff into a cup which I had cut off the top 3/4ths of so I could use it as a dip cup. I would then dip each individual piece of popcorn into the hot fake butter and eat it. Sometimes I would add Flavocol to the popcorn I was eating meaning I was eating popcorn with 3 times the amount of Flavocol prescribed in Flavocol's own instructions. You'll never eat anything as wonderful as my popcorn with each kernel individually dipped. It's a good thing I weighed 95 lbs. at the time or I might have had a heart attack on the spot. Since we only had one theater at my movie theater, we always had a bunch of time to eat popcorn in this way.

The other flavor I learned to love was popcorn with whiskey and rum. On Thursday nights we had drunk movies for the employees. We had to build the new movie starting on Friday and watch it around midnight after the last public movie of the night. We had to make sure the movie was built right so the Friday matinee crowd didn't see an upside down and backwards reel (I'll always remember watching "Another 48 Hours" backwards and there's not much more funny than listening to Eddie Murphy speak backwards). So all the employees came and we drank either Seagram's 7, Seagram's VO or Ron Bacardi Black with Coke or 7-Up and we ate popcorn. To this day, if I have a whiskey or rum drink (which is rare), I want popcorn with it.

Since then, I've always had a Whirly Pop. If you're eating microwave popcorn, you're doing it wrong (and odds are, I hate you). You must go buy a Whirly Pop or at least use a heavy bottomed skillet which you have to shake the entire time. The Whirly Pop is the way to go, it's much easier to turn the little crank than shake a whole heavy pan. The only downside is I've eaten so much popcorn that I've gone through 3 or 4 Whirly Pops. The Whirly Pop is always, always, on my stove top. It just doesn't make sense to put it away.

I eat my usually eat my popcorn nowadays with just salt and butter. That's the only way Stella eats it. If she's not going to eat some I have many flavors I go with depending on my mood. Parmesan garlic is just garlic salt and parmesan cheese and I have it when I'm a little more hungry or if I'm drinking wine. Greek is just Greek seasoning. I got a little shaker of White Cheddar for Christmas and it's become quite popular when I have beer tastings at the house. Then there's the old standby of garlic salt which is just buttered popcorn with garlic.

Through the years I've used olive oil instead of butter sometimes and it adds a little more gourmet flavor. Sometimes I pop the popcorn in olive oil instead of vegetable or canola oil. It adds a little richer flavor. I have a shaker of Kraft macaroni and cheese orange cheese that is good. We've done a brown butter one, the burnt butter adds a nutty flavor to the popcorn. I've tried adding chili powder when I add the popcorn to the Whirly Pop and it comes out with a nice little spicy coating. A friend of mine used to put Lawry's seasoning on his popcorn and that's pretty good too, I don't like doing it because it doesn't stick that great to the popcorn so you end up using a whole bunch and most of it ends up in the bottom of your bowl (he got around that by sprinkling the Lawry's on each handful of popcorn, he's skinny too). Basically, I've tried everything I could think of through the years, virtually anything tastes good on popcorn. I even gross Stella out by eating a couple handfuls before we add anything to the popcorn, I love it plain too.

Then last night I came across the next frontier of popcorn, popping it in bacon fat. I couldn't wait until the kids went to bed so I could try it. I always save our bacon fat for some unconventional frying (it's great in jambalaya). I popped up a batch and seasoned with just butter and salt. The bacon flavor isn't overpowering, but is somewhat evident. Each piece has a slight smoky, salty flavor. I'll have to toy with it this week to get my other seasonings right, but my days of using canola oil to pop popcorn may well be over. I also found some new toppings to try, herbes de provence will be next experiment.


Drunk-Monkey said...

That's funny that you still love popcorn after working in a theater. I was a projectionist in college, perfect job for a college student. I was never much of a fan, but after working in a theater the smell of popcorn makes me want to puke

Robert said...

I worked at movie theaters during high school and college, too, but even back in the day I could take or leave the popcorn. My favorite is the popcorn at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, with a little bit of butter and a ton of Spike dumped on it.

Mr. Vard, what theater did you work at? I was rocking usher duty over at Wichita's Dickinson Northrock 6.

Bull E. Vard said...

Working in a theater does kill a person's taste for movie theater popcorn, I think that's universally true. Like I said, I still won't eat it at a movie theater but about once a year. However, white popcorn without all the movie theater crap like coconut oil, Flavocol and fake butter is completely different.

Wet popcorn smell is my kryptonite. At a certain point I couldn't clean a theater because the smell of Coke and popcorn mixed together made me throw up. Literally. I would throw up in the bag.

Bull E. Vard said...

Robert, I knew you worked there. I, too, rocked the black pants white short look of the Dickinson clan, but I plied my trade at the Wichita Mall 1.

Salty Lass said...

Have you tried flavored salts yet? They adhere well to popcorn.

Average Jane said...

I've been using grapeseed oil to make popcorn. It has a nice, nutty flavor that isn't too overwhelming.

Faith said...

I use a heavy saucepan to make my popcorn on the stovetop. The dogs have gotten so used to the sound of the pan coming out of the cupboard, and the popcorn being poured into it, that they're immediately at my feet as soon as the 2nd kernel hits the bottom of the pan. :D (It's the only "people food" that I willingly share with them. And I still kind of make like I'm accidentally dropping it on the floor, so they don't get any ideas about begging for it once I sit down on the couch.)

I make it every Sunday, so I can sit and eat it as I watch my ghosty shows I have recorded. (Most Haunted and Ghost Hunters.)

I used to use butter, but these days, I just put a little salt, and some of that white cheddar sprinkle stuff on it when it's hot out of the pan. YUM!

emawkc said...

Try sprinkling in a little wasabi powder with your seasonings.

AmyA said...

Weird....I'm a former Wichita theater worker too... Cinemas West. I've never been able to eat popcorn since leaving the theater. It never lives up to the memory of what it should be. I try occasionally at some place or another, but it is never satisfying.

I enjoy your blog, btw.