Wok Popcorn with Wow Flavors

Wok popcorn in a B-movie bowl. (One of two B-movie themed bowls I have.)

Wok popcorn in a B-movie bowl. (One of two B-movie themed bowls I have.)

Popcorn was one of the things that kept me from starving in college. That and squash and 99 cent pizza that had the taste and texture of cardboard slathered with tomato sauce. I know I ate other things, but those are the big three that stand out in my memory.

When my popcorn popper (which got me through college) broke many years ago I started making popcorn in my wok (with a lid). Then I got lazy and switched to microwave popcorn. Then I got annoyed because it seemed like we were always out and were constantly buying these boxes of little greasy flat bags of microwave popcorn. I was also always looking for something that tasted like what I used to make. You’d think the low-fat low-cal versions would do it, but they tasted so bland I could hardly believe I was actually eating popcorn…or anything.

Then when the local grocery store started carrying things in bulk I discovered I could fill up a bag of organic popcorn, which was not only cheaper than microwave (or pre-packaged organic), but healthier than microwave popcorn. The wok popper was back in action! 😀 For my wok I use a rounded 1/3 cup of popcorn and 3-4 Tbls oil, sprinkled with sea salt when it was done. I think 3 Tbls is optimal, but you can get away with a little bit more without the popcorn being too greasy. The wok shape is well suited to making popcorn, being very close to the size and shape of my old defunct popcorn maker. I have an electric stove and turn the burner to 6 (your stove may be different). Add oils, then popcorn, put the lid on and stand by to shake it when it starts popping good. 🙂 When the popping slows down to the point where there’s several seconds between pops you can take it off the burner and tip it into your favorite popcorn bowl.

After returning to wok popping I started experimenting with flavors, first adding Hungarian hot paprika to the oil (okay, but blackened). Then I hit on adding chili oil. I use Boyajian flavored oils. (They make a “natural butter flavor” popcorn oil, but I haven’t tried it yet.) So I substituted 1 Tbls chili oil for part of the oil. Then I tried substituting garlic oil for part of the oil. Then garlic and chili oil combined. Now I’ve added some basil oil to the mix. I’ve also experimented with butter, but butter is, surprisingly not as buttery as artificial butter, the taste of which is corrupting palates everywhere. I haven’t quite given up on butter as an ingredient, but I’m going to have to change my expectations of what it will taste like. Butter burns easily; substituting a small amount for some of the oil will prevent that, but then again, a small amount isn’t really discernible. 🙄

I’d recommend beginning as I did by substituting 1 Tbls of flavored oil for part of the 3 Tbls regular oil, then increase to 2 Tbls if the flavor isn’t strong enough, up to a total of 3 Tbls. Some flavored oils can be quite strong and some very mild. This can also vary with the brand you use (this post refers to using Boyajian oils), so begin with one flavor and gradually increase or add other flavors. That decreases the chance that you’ll end up with a badly seasoned batch. The great thing about beginning your own experiments with flavored oil by using tablespoons is that 3 teaspoons equal one tablespoon, so you can tweak the proportions very finely and use a number of oils, say, maybe use 2 teaspoons on one flavor and add an extra teaspoon of another flavor.

This article suggests that popcorn maybe a better “super food” than other much ballyhooed exotic foods. Glad the scientists are finally catching up with me. 😉 It’s been one of my all-time favorite snack foods for my whole life.

I was surprised to see that the amount of popcorn and oil in the article was the same as mine. I use 1/3 cup popcorn because that was the amount recommended for the now-long-defunct popcorn popper—but the amount of oil I’ve been using was just what I’d come up with on my own: the ancient popper had this tiny ring just above the bottom which indicated the amount of oil.

Unlike the instructions in the article at the beginning I don’t test pop a few kernals. It pops good and has few unpopped kernals, so I don’t know how important it is to get the oil to max heat before dumping in the 1/3 cup of popcorn. It gets a slight pre-heating because I put the wok on the (electric) burner and turn it on before I go to the pantry for the oils and popcorn, so the oil isn’t totally cold when the popcorn goes in, but it’s not to maximum heat. Avoid the temptation to crank the burner up on High then turn it down: it won’t cool down to the optimal temperature as fast as you think and you’ll end up with some charred pieces of popcorn. Not to mention oil on High is a good way to start a grease fire. (Caution: Do not leave wok on the stove unattended!)

As soon as I read the article on popcorn being a super food I went into the kitchen and made a batch of popcorn. 😎