Renee SchettlerWashington Post Staff Writer
December 12, 2001; Page F7
Real popcorn is not that wretched stuff that comes
in an inflatable bag and is coated with orange gunk and nuked
until it's reminiscent of charcoal.
Real popcorn is unadulterated corn that, when properly
popped, explodes out of its hull, turns itself inside out and
forms snowflakes whose contours capture just the right amount
- Real popcorn makes a great holiday gift. But you can't
plunk just any popcorn in a box and tie it up with a
ribbon. Each specialty popcorn -- and there are many
-- has a surprisingly different flavor and texture.
- Such differences are more pronounced when kernels are popped
in hot oil -- not in hot air. Fancy contraptions are unnecessary.
Instead, reach for a simple heavy-bottomed pot or kettle (such
as a Dutch oven or wok) and drizzle in a decent puddle of bland
vegetable oil. Toss in three or five kernels, cover and place
over medium-high heat. Using hot pads, grasp the pan and give
it a good shake now and then. When you hear popping, add a handful
of kernels, cover and continue shaking occasionally. Once the
popping really picks up, shake the pan almost constantly and
crack the lid a bit to allow the steam to escape. Then immediately
transfer the popcorn to a bowl and salt to taste.
- Then, the hard part: You have to let it breathe, just like some
fine wines. Really. Otherwise, on first taste, the popcorn will be exceedingly chewy, even sticky, and corny. I'm told
it's something to do with moisture content. Instead, set the popcorn aside a few minutes to set the crunch. Good things
come to those who wait.
- The color of the kernel can be deceptive because it doesn't
always match the resulting popped corn. It does, however, dictate
the ensuing flavor and texture. Yellow kernels tends to be large,
chewy and slightly corny. White is commonly tender, mild and
sweet. Red has mildly nutty overtones. Blue and purple veer
toward the tiny, chewy and earthy end of the spectrum. Still
confused? Read on.
- FIREWORKS Wisconsin White Birch is everything I ever wanted
in a popcorn. Exceedingly light and tender, it bursts
into enormous snowballs rich with popcorn flavor. I wish
movie theaters served this. (It's that good.)
- Other favorites: High Mountain Midnight boasts a "robust, wild"
flavor, and so it is, popping up bright white, crisp and nutty.
Savanna Gold is brilliant yellow and delivers on its promise
of a "smooth, sweet flavor." Orchard Blossom magically goes
from pale violet to white in a crisp, subtly corny way.
- Less impressive are the small, earthy Sturghll Red and the exceedingly
chewy Autumn Blaze, which is too miniscule to taste.
- Available locally at Crate & Barrel (six-pack crate for
$29.95) , Linens 'n Things (four-pack crate for $14.99).
- Also available by mail order from Fireworks Popcorn Co.;
call 877-668-4800 or see www.popcornlovers.com.
- WHITE CAT CORN This popcorn yields immense yellow kernels
that really follow through on the pop with lots of airy crunch
and a mildly corny, slightly sweet smack. Available locally
for about $3.50 per 27-ounce jar at Williams-Sonoma stores.
- CROWN JEWEL Try letting these varieties "breathe" for a few
minutes, and an entirely different kernel emerges. It's like
- Purple Amethyst initially tastes no better than a dry corncob,
but it quickly becomes crisp and crunchy with a robust corn flavor
that wanes to almost nutty. Baby Black Pearl is mild though
corny with sweetish overtones.
- Red Ruby has a lovely amber cast with an initial sweet, stickiness
that soon gives way to a buttery, mildly corny taste with nice
- The snow-white Baby Pearl smacks more of earth than of corn.
Petite Princess Amber is small, tender and, depending on one's
perspective, either delicate or bland. Blue Sapphire pops up
firm and large but tastes like any plain old yellow. Yellow
Topaz and White Diamond are fine if unremarkable.
- Available locally at some Williams-Sonoma stores. Also available
by mail order from Crown Jewel; call 800-653-9357 or see www.crownjewelgourmet.com.
- INDIA TREE These popcorns are dubbed paloma (Mexican
for "dove" and a nickname for popcorn). They're a tad
perplexing. They look like popcorn. They smell like popcorn.
They even crunch like popcorn. They just don't taste
much like popcorn. They apparently are for those who
like a big crunch accompanied by a delicate flavor. Blanca (white)
is airy and crisp, Dorado (gold) tastes buttery of its own accord,
Roja (red) is tiny and chewy and de Colores (mixed) is, well,
all of the above.
- One-pound packages of some flavors are available locally at
Dean & DeLuca ($5.75 to $8.50; 3276 M St. NW, call 202-342-2500);
La Cuisine -- The Cook's Resource ($6 per bag; 323 Cameron St.,
Alexandria, call 703-836-4435); and Sutton Place Gourmet stores
($5.49 to $5.99). Also available by mail order from La Cuisine
(call 703-836-4435 or 800-521-1176).