From a very young age I have devoted a great deal of mental energy to the process of making popcorn. My parents had an oil-based popcorn maker that I fell in love with as a toddler. It had a yellow plastic dome that you could see through, and a reservoir for oil and popcorn, and I would stare enthralled as the kernels exploded with intoxicating violence and the machine slowly filled. When I got older and could do it myself I used this machine often, and when I went to college my parents got me its modern equivalent: the same thing, but with a motorized stirring rod to heat the popcorn more evenly. For years I used this popper, but my love for it was marred by how difficult it was to clean. The base with the heating element was heavy, and could not be immersed in water. The clear plastic lid also dispensed butter through a screen in the top, which then had to be soaked. The stirrer had to be carefully disassembled. And, of course, you had to wait until it cooled down enough to clean. There were times when my desire for popcorn wasn’t worth the mess.
Eventually I learned a way to make popcorn in a large pot, which was a substantial improvement as it was much easier to clean. I pretty much stopped using my popcorn maker, and happily had many delicious and undoubtedly healthy 100% popcorn meals. For you see, the labor involved in making popcorn on the stove is unrelated to the volume you are cooking, so it is inefficient to make only a small amount of popcorn that way. Which means I never did. And I couldn’t allow it to get stale, so I always ate all of it. I mean, it was only logical.
Lurking in the background all these years was microwave popcorn. It is much faster and easier to make, it comes in a pre-sized portion which helps prevent overeating, and there is next to no cleanup required. On the surface it seems the perfect solution. The problem is that microwave popcorn tastes terrible compared to home made oil popped, and I was raised on the good stuff. On top of not tasting good, it is probably about 100 times more expensive. So while microwave popcorn has been a part of my life, it has never achieved supremacy. But that might be about to change.
I moved recently. Yesterday I was unpacking a box of pantry stuff, and had simultaneously in view several items that suggested an experiment in DIY microwave popcorn. It was a fabulous success.
This project requires:
- 1 paper lunch sack
- 1 stapler with staples
- 1/4 cup of popcorn
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
Pour 1/4 cup of popcorn and 1 tbsp of oil into the bottom of the sack. You can also add spices or salt if you so desire.
Refold the bag and lay it down with the bottom facing up. (If you lay it on the other side the bag will stand up in the microwave, which in my experience makes the popcorn more likely to burn.) Press on the pouch at the bottom of the bag to ensure that the kernels are well coated with oil.
Fold over the top of the bag and staple it closed. Seriously. Do not worry about the metal going into the microwave. Staples are tiny, they will not cause any problems. I usually use two.
Put the bag in the microwave. I recommend putting a plate under it, as the bag will leak some oil. (The plate may be hot when you take it out.) Microwave the bag for 2-3 minutes, or until the pops slow to a couple of seconds apart.
Open and enjoy. Here is what the popcorn you just made looks like in a bowl, with the stapler for scale:
I may never buy prepackaged microwave popcorn again.
EDIT: A google search shows that this is actually a fairly well publicized technique.