Gourmet Live’s latest issue, Dinner And A Movie, along with Melissa Roberts’ popcorn recipes, reminded me that it’s been a long time since my husband and I have actually gone out to a theater to see a movie. Two adult tickets in New York City these days is a major investment. If you add the exorbitant cost of the movie theatre popcorn, the question becomes a choice between a movie or dinner in a restaurant, not both.
We also happen to be serious fans of popcorn. So serious, that we cheat when we do go to the movies: We bring our own popcorn. In a supermarket brown paper bag. Inside a plastic shopping bag. Inside a backpack.
Why bother? Because compared to the way we make our popcorn, movie theater popcorn doesn’t come close. Movie popcorn is usually way too salty, even for me—and I love my salt—but beyond that, we just don’t like the flavor of popcorn cooked in hot oil.
Call us popcorn snobs, but we think our homemade popcorn rocks. So much so, that we never seem to tire of it. A giant bowl of it counts as dinner more evenings than I dare admit to.
What’s so special about it? First, we start with a tender white variety from Oak Grove Plantation of Pittstown, New Jersey, at New York City’s Union Square Greenmarket that we buy in bulging five-pound bags. But it’s how we pop it that makes such a difference: A hot-air popper, folks. We don’t use oil until after the corn is popped. That’s when we drizzle it with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle it with finely ground French gray sea salt (sel gris).
I know, I know, we sound so hoity-toity. But there’s a real reason behind our obsession. I learned years ago in a class at the Natural Gourmet Institute For Food and Health that when oils are heated, they break down into compounds that aren’t so healthy. By using a hot air popper, the popcorn tastes purely of corn, and we avoid not only that unpleasant cooked-oil flavor, but also the negative aspects of the hot oil.
The extra-virgin olive oil serves two functions. It’s as much a part of the seasoning as the sea salt, but you also need it to help the salt adhere to the corn. We could jazz up our popcorn further with some curry powder, smoked paprika, or toasted and coarsely ground cumin seeds, but we’re fond of it with just the olive oil and salt. Try it. You just might find yourself sneaking your own homemade popcorn into the theater, too!