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Volume 39 Issue 7 • June 18-24, 2009
now in our 39th season

Popcorn

by Jenn Farmer
Sous Chef at Bartlett's Farm

So the Nantucket film festival has finally arrived again.  I always find it exciting to see the whole spectrum of people who have arrived to join us for this annual event.  Like everyone, I have my favorite films, and of course at the top my list are4 some classic food films.  My top three are Babette’s Feast (1987), Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) and Big Night (1996).  All three of these movies depict chefs so well!  They capture the real passion, and respect for ingredients and epicurean delights, which all cooks and foodies share.  They also depict some of eccentricities that most professional cooks possess, especially the fine line of love and disdain for their customers or intended audience.  The feasts in these movies are incomparable, and make me feel almost sentimental, like good comfort food.  Additionally, I must admit that I never, ever get tired of watching an adept chef at work.   Call me crazy, but I love skilled hands. I especially love hands that know how to wield a knife with precision, dexterity, and delicacy all at once.  If you don’t know what I am talking about, I highly recommend you watch one of these films.     

While we all enjoy great movies, I cannot go any further without mentioning a key element to any movie theatre experience—popcorn.  Coming from the Midwest, I am a big popcorn fan.  My father actually taught me how to use chopsticks by giving me a large bowl of popcorn (when I was very hungry) and telling me I was not allowed to use my hands, just the chopsticks.  I am proud to say I am quite proficient with chopsticks.  Thanks Dad.  

Popcorn popping was originally discovered by Native Americans (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_Americans_in_the_United_States).  Some tribes even believed the popping sound was an angry god who was escaping from the kernel.  It really became popular as a snack food during the Great Depression in the United States.  Since the cost of popcorn was very low in comparison to candy, it became especially popular in movie theatres.

Popcorn is able to pop because its kernels have a hard moisture-sealed hull.  The kernel also contains moisture, oil, and a dense starchy filling.  When the oil and water are heated past the boiling point, pressure builds up inside the kernel.  The pressure continues to build until the hull ruptures, then, an explosive "pop" and the characteristic fluffy kernel is the result. 

Since the invention of microwave popcorn, many people don’t use their stovetop to pop the corn.  Included are the simple steps for making traditional popped corn. 

Plain Popcorn

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup popcorn kernels

On moderately high flame, heat the oil with 3 popcorn kernels in a covered 3-quart heavy saucepan.   Wait until 1 or 2 kernels pop; this means the pan is hot enough.  Quickly add remaining popcorn, then cook, covered, shaking pan frequently, until kernels stop popping, about 3 minutes. Add your favorite seasonings and enjoy!

The Popcorn Board offers a lot of unique recipes; the following is one from their website.

Thai Peanut and Popcorn Chicken

  • 2 cups popped popcorn
  • One half cup chopped peanuts
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon. soy sauce
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • One half teaspoon hot pepper sauce
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 (1 3 /4 pound) chicken breasts, boneless and skinless

For the Thai peanut sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • One half teaspoon hot pepper sauce

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Process the popcorn in a food processor until ground, and then mix with chopped peanuts.  Set aside.  Whisk together the egg, 1 tsp soy sauce, garlic, and hot pepper sauce.  Pre-heat a skillet on medium high heat with the vegetable oil.  Dredge the chicken breasts in the egg mixture then the popcorn and peanut mixture, sauté in skillet until golden brown on both sides. 

Place chicken in an oven proof dish and bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until cooked through.  While chicken is baking, make the peanut sauce by mixing together the peanut butter, honey, lime juice, soy sauce, and hot sauce until well blended and smooth.  Serve the hot chicken with the Thai peanut sauce.  Serves 4.

I think one reason most people enjoy popcorn so much is that it is an open canvas.  It can be enjoyed with savory or sweet flavors or even plain.  The flavor combinations are endless.  Butter, olive oil, salt, sugar, cheese, herbs, spices, chilies, and chocolate all taste great on popcorn.  If you really want to go wild, combine the sweet and salty flavors together.  One of my favorite ways to make gourmet popcorn is to add a little truffle oil, black pepper and parmesan cheese to it.  I also love to toss plain popcorn together with trail mix.  One of my best friends loves chopped bacon and shredded cheddar on their popcorn.    My next experiment will be with making a popcorn treat, much like a krispie treat, with melted marshmallows and butter—I will let you know how it turns out, but meanwhile here is an easy traditional caramel corn recipe.

Simple Carmel Corn

  • 2-1/2 quarts popped popcorn
  • 1 cup pecans or peanuts
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Candy thermometer

Pre-heat your oven to 250-degrees Fahrenheit.  Spread popped popcorn and nuts on a sheet pan, and place in oven. Combine butter, brown sugar, syrup and salt in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Wash sugar from sides of pan with a wet brush.  Boil until mixture reaches 248 degrees (firm ball stage on candy thermometer), about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in baking soda. Pour mixture over corn and nuts, stirring gently to coat.  Return glazed popcorn-and-nut mixture to oven and bake 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. When cooled, pack in airtight containers.

Although popcorn is popular world-wide, most people have never heard of or tried a popcorn shoot.  Popcorn shoots are a trendy, very interesting, and surprisingly pretty food.  The immature corn shoots are vibrant yellow, and packed full of sweet and surprisingly intense corn flavor.  Some specialty stores may carry popcorn shoots, but mostly I have seen them on some local restaurant menus.  A few years ago I worked with a cook, who invented a delightful dish.  It was barbequed, bacon-wrapped scallops, served with popcorn shoots as the garnish.  It was an amazing menu item. 

Although popcorn shoots may not be readily available, they can be grown at home in less than a couple weeks.    The seeds are simple to sprout, and there are several great websites giving detailed information on how to do it.  So if you are a green thumb, this is definitely worth a try.  

This is the perfect time to enjoy some great films.  So go out this week, enjoy the movies, and by all means indulge, and have some popcorn!

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