Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

Pop, eat, repeat

Imagine how freaked out the man or woman was when they first discovered/invented popcorn.

Making this ubiquitous snack from scratch is an abiding memory from my errant childhood, like the time we appropriated (nicked) some fireworks from my grandmother and let them off in a local bus shelter. T-minus ten seconds to lift off! BOOM!

Don’t try that one at home, kids.


The popcorn though, I’ll never forget my sense of wonder at the food alchemy bordering on magic.

I might have been nine or ten at the time and my uncle was visiting from Syracuse. I recall too that upon arrival he presented me with a fishing rod and a New York Giants jacket. Uncle Steven is good that way.

Late one evening, like an alchemist bordering on magician, he produced this bag of un-popped kernels with a flourish. Into the pot they went with sunflower oil, as we all gazed on in nervy anticipation. Sure, we’d had popcorn before, but only at the cinema and only as an afterthought when the latest Disney release was taking over the playground chats.

Even now, looking back through three decades of murky memories, I can remember perfectly the tang of excitement which popped inside me when those first shots erupted from the battered saucepan. I remember too when the barrage finally subsided, the still steaming popcorn were heeled onto a baking tray and drenched in melted butter. It was a greasy hanlin’ but oh-so satisfying. Finger-lickin’ good, as the Colonel might say.

On Sunday night past I recreated that tang of excitement for the little humans in the house. Eyes, like the kernels, were popping. Is there any better sound in the kitchen (after bacon sizzling and the glug from a virginal bottle) than a broadside of exploding corn? I fully admit, I too was veritably hopping with anticipation, especially as it was me shaking the pan, all the while resisting the urge to lift the lid and peek inside. Note: I’d done this once before and lost a good third of the popcorn. Clown, that I am.

On Sunday, we opted for sweet and salty popcorn but as anyone who has ever popped and snacked will know, that is only the tip of the popcorn-shaped iceberg.

Brown sugar and salt will give you the salted caramel effect.


Chilli powder, smoked paprika and cumin will make you feel like you’re in Mexico.

Melted chocolate will make you and your popcorn happy.

Parmesan cheese and oregano will give you the Italian kick.

Or you could stick to the sweet and salty. Or you could have one or the other.

Personally, I’m amazed at the amount of popcorn I can get through in one sitting and unlike crisps or nuts, I don’t need a chaser in the form of a glass of Andrews. It’s the snack that keeps on giving!

Generally with toppings, you can mix the ingredients in a bowl and then cover the popcorn upon their exiting the saucepan. But my version of sweet and salty incorporates the flavour into the very popping itself. It’s almost salted caramel but not quite.

And you have to be careful too because if the heat’s too high and you scorch the corn, no amount of sugar will take away the bitterness.

I also use a cast iron Le Creuset thing-y which I think helps reduce the scorching. But any saucepan with a lid will work, so long as you keep an eye.

• 2 tbsps of sunflower or rapeseed oil
• 3 tbsps of popping corn
• 1 tbsp of sugar
• half a tsp of fine sea salt

Add the oil to the pan and turn the heat up to medium high. Add three kernels and put the lid on.

Next mix the sugar with the salt in a small bowl.

When the kernels in the pan pop the oil is hot enough. Retrieve the three popped corns and add the remainder of the kernels, spreading them out evenly in the pan. Now quickly sprinkle the sugar salt mix over the top. Put the lid on and wait.

The popping should start pretty soon and all you have to do is shake the pan from time to time so that the sugar doesn’t get a chance to burn. The popping will flare at one point and when it starts to die down or there’s a two-second interval between ‘pops’ then remove from the heat. Turn out onto a baking tray. This stops the steam from making the popcorn soft. Taste and if you think they need another touch of salt or sugar – or both – add away.

Now all you have to do is decide on a film to watch.

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