I’m going to just come out and admit this: I have never once made microwave popcorn.
However, I’m married to someone who has, and the experience has left him with very strong feelings on the matter of popcorn and how it is properly made. You know how some people are persnickety about tea-making? You must boil the water and then let it rest to just this temperature and then you pour the just-under-boiling water tea over the leaves — NO TEA BAGS JUST LOOSE LEAVES — just so and so on and so on? Well, according to my other half, making popcorn is less complicated than making proper tea (at least, as I understand him) but there are, regardless, right and wrong ways to go about it. And under no circumstance does a microwave fall under the right category.
First you have to pull out a large stock pot. We use the big Revereware stock pot: it is tall and has a good lid and is not very heavy. You coat the bottom of the pot with vegetable oil and put in popcorn. My instinct is always to use one cup of raw kernels but I’m told this is ludicrously too much. I say there’s never too much. Anyhow, you heat the oil, you put in the popcorn kernels, and then, with the lid on, idiot, you hold the handles of the pot and sort of agitate the kernels gently. You must have the pot close to the stove, on the stove, while you agitate the kernels: you’re looking for a horizontal “swish/swish/swish” kind of thing here, not an up-and-down motion. It takes a few minutes for the oil to heat to the point where the kernels will feel sufficiently pressurized to explode; you may get bored and think, “I’m just gonna lift the lid and see what’s going on in there.” Don’t do that! Just don’t! Leave it be! Keep swirling the popcorn around. After a little while you’ll hear a little ping and then another ping and then another and pretty soon it’s just POP POP POP POP POP and all hell’s breaking loose in there and you have to keep the pan moving otherwise that shit’s gonna burn and you just let it do its thing while you move the pot around.
And then things begin to die down. The popcorn’s mostly popped. You’ll hear a few little lingering popping sounds as some old maids come through at the last moment. But after a couple more minutes, it’s all over.
Now, you may have already melted some butter to pour on your popcorn. Me, I don’t need it. What I like to do is shake on some of the cheese powder you can order from King Arthur Flour . We all love it. It’s like making your own Smartfood, almost. I don’t use enough of it, ever, to really rise to Smartfood-levels of heavenly cheese popcorn, but a couple tablespoons does the trick. This stuff isn’t cheap, so it’s definitely a hard-core treat for us, but once in a while it’s just the thing.
People will talk to you about all these clever things you can sprinkle on your popcorn. They’ll talk to you about cumin and nutritional yeast, a thing I’ve yet to purchase, ever. They’ll give you this jazz about chili powder and lime and all this and I’m like, “you know, I’m sure that’s great, but that’s not what I want.” When I want popcorn I want it either plain or with cheese. That’s it. Mostly, I want it in large quantity.
Crappy snowy afternoons, when the kid and I are going to just curl up and watch a movie because we’re too tuckered out to read, even, and we just want to zone out on the couch — that’s when I make popcorn. I will make a vast quantity of popcorn. And I will get out the two large white ceramic bowls that only she and I ever eat out of — they are the bowls we use when my husband isn’t home for dinner and it’s just the two of us having Long Spaghetti Night, too — and we will watch a dumb movie and eat popcorn. Pirate Radio, or School of Rock, and cheese popcorn. That is a fine winter afternoon. Sure, cleaning out the popcorn pot is a nuisance, but for superior popcorn, it’s worth it. No good food comes from a microwave, people. Accept this, absorb this, and go buy a bag of popcorn kernels the next time a snowstorm’s coming in. Your panic shopping list will now read: Milk, bread, beer, popcorn.