I love salted caramels, pretzel M&Ms, anything that deftly combines the two great tastes of Sweet and Salty.
Lately, I have been obsessed with kettle corn. Freshly popped corn swathed in a very light coating of buttery caramel and sprinkled with just a little bit of salt. The smell of it makes me swoon. How can something taste so sweet and salty, airy yet so rich all at the same time? It's just delicious.
After a lot of trial and error, I figured out a way to make it at home.
First off, you need a special stovetop popcorn popper. A Whirley Pop is basically an aluminum pot outfitted with a crank that stirs the contents without having to remove the lid. A regular pot with a tight fitted lid may suffice for popping plain old corn since all you need is a few shakes of the contents. But add sugar and butter? - all you get is a hot burnt mess. Maybe like me, you already have too many kitchen contraptions. But this one's worth it. Get rid of that bread machine that makes subpar bread anyway and make way for a Whirley Pop.
Ingredients: have everything at hand before you turn on the stove
2 Tbsp of vegetable oil
1/2 cup of dry kernel popping corn - Orville Redenbacher's works just fine.
1/3 cup of white, granulated sugar
2 Tbsp of butter (optional)
Popcorn salt or any fine grain salt
Other helpful tools:
A large bowl to toss your popped corn
Wooden salad tongs or some other tool to help you toss that hot and sticky corn
Step 1: Turn on the stove to high. Set the Whirley Pop on the stove and quickly place your vegetable oil and a few kernels of corn inside it. Close the lid. This gets the oil to just the right temperature which will be when the first kernel pops. Immediately turn the stove to medium hot.
Step 2: Here's where you have to move fast. Carefully open the lid and dump in the corn, the butter and the sugar. Close the lid and give it a good stir with a few cranks. The sudden insertion of all the ingredients brings the heat down so that neither the butter nor the sugar burns. Instead they both melt and then congeal into that delicious substance we know as caramel. The vegetable oil acts to keep the butter from burning (the oil has a higher smoke point) - you can leave out the butter if you want but don't leave out the vegetable oil.
Step 3: Crank every 30 seconds or so while things start to sizzle. Resist the urge to open the lid - you don't want a faceful of hot oil. Be patient as it takes a few minutes for the sugar to caramelize while the steam in the kernels builds up. When you hear the first pops, keep cranking - more often now. When the contents get downright furious, crank the handle continuously. All that popped corn gets sticky and if you stop cranking, the handle will get hard to turn thus defeating its purpose. You're almost there!
Step 4: When the popping dies down, open the lid and shake the contents out into a large mixing bowl. Wait 1 minute - the makers of the Whirley Pop say it helps make the popcorn crispy. I do it mainly because I always forget to get out the popcorn salt so I have to root around in the cupboard for um, exactly one minute. Toss the popcorn with salt - it may be clumpy at first. I use a pair of wooden salad tongs.
A few pointers:
Whatever you don't eat will keep for a day or so in an airtight container. But if your kitchen is humid, the popcorn will get soggy pretty fast. Either eat it right away or seal it up for later.
If you're making another batch, there's no need to wash the pot. But if not, just fill the pot with some hot soapy water and the residual caramel comes right off.
If all this sounds like too much hassle, I understand. Instead, simply invite me over for dinner, I'll bring my Whirley Pop and a good DVD.