Watching a movie without a mound of fresh, hot, crunchy popcorn just isn’t the same, even sat at home on the sofa. Yet popcorn is a food that’s deceptively difficult to get right without professional equipment – a deep, satisfying crunch giving way to a perfectly fluffy interior, rich flavor, a salty sting that’s just so. But forget investing in expensive machines or fancy air fryers, for the secret to perfect popcorn is much simpler than you think – it’s sitting right there in your pantry.
It’s oil. Lashings of it. And almost any type will do – you can pick and choose according to personal taste and preference. For upping the amount of oil you use compared to traditional recipes gives an extra-crunchy exterior, and ensures that each kernel gets popped (meaning no more sad, rock-hard little nuggets left at the bottom of the bowl). They also hold seasoning better, making them tastier too.
So, how to achieve popcorn nirvana? Most recipes call for one or two tablespoons of oil per half cup of popcorn, but this isn’t enough. Aim for half a cup of oil with every third of a cup of popcorn – so more oil than kernels. Using so much oil gives them a deep flavour and that extra crunchiness – the exterior should almost be as crunchy as a potato chip. Yes, this is a little exuberant – some might even say decadent – but the results are worth it.
As for the type of oil, ideally you want something with a high smoke point and clean flavor. Grapeseed oil is perfect, but you can use sunflower, safflower, vegetable, canola, and corn (don’t use olive oil – it’s too heavy, and has too low a smoke point). For a buttery flavor, don’t add ghee or melted butter at the end – this will make the popcorn soggy. Instead, use a half butter, half oil mix from the beginning for extra richness.
You can even use various flavorful fats, such as duck fat, coconut oil, or bacon grease, to add new, exotic taste dimensions (again, mix half and half with a refined oil).
Not only will these super crisp kernels give a satisfying crunch, they’ll hold seasoning much better too. Avoid flavouring with anything that has a high moisture content, such as lemon or fresh herbs; stick to dry seasonings like ground spices, seeds, dried herbs and chilies, salts, and vegetable powders. Great popcorn lends itself brilliantly to both sweet and savory, so mix things up; you can even add a bit of umami. Try coconut sugar, caramel, and turmeric, or smoked paprika and cumin. Go hot with spicy pimentón popcorn, or nutritional yeast, rosemary, and black pepper for a vegan “cheesy” hit of goodness. Or just good ol' sea salt.