Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The best thing since The King's Speech

I LOVE going to the cinema. Partly for the fact that you get to lose yourself in somebody's elses imagination for a good two hours, but, slightly more shamefully, I have a horrendous addiction to popcorn.

When I was going up, it was one of my magical 3 dishes I could, and often would, cook without the need for adult supervision (the other two were hot chocolate fudge sauce and pancakes, not that I have a sweet tooth or anything). And I have to say, all that practise has put me in good stead. Even these days working with other chefs there are those that can, and those that can't. Cook popcorn that it.

So, I thought I might share some of my hints and tips for achieving perfect, unsinged (is that even a word?) popcorn, made from scratch, with only the help of a good deep saucepan, lid and a little oil.
Because nothing really compares to it, particularly when finished with my sea salted caramel coating....

Step 1: Identify your saucepan. make sure its deep and has a tight fitting lid.
Step 2: Identify your popcorn kernels, perhaps pour out a small 1/4 cupful so that we're not tempted to overfill the pan at the crucial moment.
Step 3: Identify your oil. This is important - you must only use a good light oil with a high smoke point such as cold-pressed rapeseed (its very good for you), sunflower or vegetable oil. If it has a low smoke point you will soon discover this when it starts to smoke.

Right. Ready? Excellent.
Place your pan on the heat, you can add the lid too, as it helps to heat it up quicker. You need the pan to be really quite hot. It should very faintly just start to smoke, and be hot enough that you can hold your hand over the top of the pan for about 3 seconds.
Now add your oil. You want enough to coat the bottom of the pan and slightly immerse the kernals. This ensures the kernels are all at the same temperature.
The oil should swirl slightly around and look vaguely interesting.
Now add your kernels, and shake the pan slightly to get an even distribution. LID ON QUICKLY!

Within about 20-30 seconds you should hear popping, then violent popping. This is dead exciting if your lid isn't transparent, as you can only imagine the chaos going on underneath.

Very soon the popping will slow down, and then almost stop. As soon as it is slow enough that you can hear individual pops, give the pan a slight shake and then REMOVE THE PAN FROM THE HEAT.
There is always enough residual heat to finish off a few kernels, but even if there are a few left, better that than charred popcorn. Always disappointing.

At this stage you can select your topping. The Man of the House likes salted, naturally I like sweet. No worries there. My mum uses Angela Malik's Thai pesto (chilli, salt, sugar, coriander, ginger and garlic) and sometimes for parties I make spiced popcorn with Angela Malik garam masala, salt and sugar, or my Thai-style with chilli, salt and sugar.
All delicious, but now I have to introduce you to my favourite :
Sea salted caramel topping.

For about a 1/4 cup of kernels, I use this much:
2 large tbsp butter
3 level tbsp caster sugar
2 pinches sea salt or 1 pinch sea salt and 1 pinch Halen Mon vanilla sea salt (for VERY special occasions)

Melt together the butter sugar and 1 pinch sea salt until the sugar dissolves and starts to bubble. Now this is where you can make it your own: decide how golden you want your caramel to become, bearing in mind that it will always continue to cook slightly more if you let it sit at all before pouring onto the popcorn.
When it has reached the desired colour, pour over the popped corn, which hopefully is still in the pan you cooked it in (always looking for ways to minimise washing up).
Give it a really good stir around for a few minutes until all the kernels are lightly coated. Trust me, it'll get there.
Then sprinkle on your 2nd pinch of sea salt or fancy vanilla salt and pour out onto a tray. It just needs to sit for a few minutes to crisp up.

I've got to run now, serious popcorn craving after all that!

PS If you happen to not be able to finish it, it keeps really well, but I'm warning you, its addictive!

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