Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Kettle Corn 2.0

So, this one takes me back a bit. Years ago, when my good friend Jenna and I were enterprising young foodies, we took a stall at the Marin County Farmer’s Market one summer and sold…well, whatever we were baking that week. Brownies were our trademark, but we also did toffee, lemon bars, raspberry slices—all kinds of ridiculously decadent treats. It was great fun, an incredible amount of hard work and I’d do it again in a hot minute.

One of the great things I remember about trading at the Farmer’s Market was the in-kind trading that all the vendors took part in about 15 minutes before closing time. We used to trade whatever we had left for a couple pounds of fresh heirloom tomatoes, a jar of local honey, or a few rotisserie chickens (yes, seriously). Not to toot our own horn or anything, but we generally found that we made out pretty well with the whole bartering system. The market price for a brownie and a smile was, in those days, incredibly high.

One trader that I always made a beeline for at the end of the day was the Kettle Corn Guy. I freaking love Kettle Corn—or at least I thought I did. The whole salty-sweet combination, along with the roasting corn smell just got me every time. But a few bites in, I always found myself getting bored and wondering aloud, “Jenna, why don’t they make Spicy Kettle Corn?”

It stands to reason. You’ve got the salty and you’ve got the sweet—seems like a no-brainer to add a little kick to it, right? I found myself bringing home the leftover kettle corn and experimenting by adding pimentón, cayenne, paprika, everything. But nothing worked quite so well as a combination of Ras al Hanout and freshly ground black pepper.

So, when I decided to make a little fresh popcorn to accompany a recent trip to the movies, I knew exactly what to pull out of the spice cabinet. And yes, I am the sort of person who brings her own snacks to movie theatres. As if you didn’t know. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Kettle Corn 2.0. Movie theatre popcorn cannot touch this stuff.

Kettle Corn Guy: If you’re out there, I’m sorry. You’ve been replaced.

Kettle Corn 2.0 (makes about 5 cups)


1/3 cup corn kernels
1 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp dark brown sugar
½ tsp Ras al Hanout (or more, if preferred)
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Directions: In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, heat the sunflower oil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, combine the melted butter, salt and spices in a large bowl and stir to combine. When the oil in the pan heats up, add the popcorn kernels so they lay on the bottom of the pan in a single layer. Shake the kernels around so they get coated in oil. Place the lid over the pan and put on some oven gloves.

As the popcorn starts to pop, gently shake the pan back and forth with the lid firmly in place so the un-popped kernels fall to the bottom. As the popping speeds up (ie, more than 4 pops per second), you may want to pull the pan from the heat so the bottom layer doesn’t burn. At this point (depending on the size of the pan you’re using) you may want to tip out some of the popcorn into the bowl you’ve got waiting to make some more space in the pan. When popping slows to about 1 pop per second, remove the pan from the heat. Leave the lid on for about a minute as some of the kernels may still be popping. Once it’s done, tip out the popcorn into the bowl with the butter and spice mixture and toss to combine.

Forget why you ever thought regular old Kettle Corn was so good in the first place.

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