I love movie theater popcorn. There’s something about the enormity of it, the sheer thrill of sitting down with a tub of popcorn as big as your torso and munching on it mindlessly for two hours straight.
Seriously — is there any other snack we can eat in such insane volume without feeling like we’re breaking a social taboo?
But I don’t get to the movies that often, and I’m not a fan of pre-packaged microwave popcorn. The fake-butter flavoring leaves a weird, filmy feeling on my tongue, reminding me that I have no idea what’s actually in the popcorn. (At least the chemical once used in the flavoring that causes a rare respiratory disease with the banal yet terrifying name of "Popcorn Lung" is now banned.)
So my husband and I started experimenting with making popcorn at home. We considered getting an air popper, but we have a small kitchen, and the thought of having to get out a stool and rummage past the unused canning equipment I once bought in a short-lived fit of ambition in order to retrieve a single-use appliance is unappealing. I tried making popcorn in a pot on the stove a few times, but could never get the heat quite right — either half the kernels wouldn’t pop or I’d overcook it. (And scorched popcorn is the worst.)
But then my husband read about a way to make popcorn in the microwave using only a brown paper lunch bag, and our household movie nights were forever changed. The method is foolproof (well, mostly — see the cautionary note below), takes less than 3 minutes, and makes popcorn that will neither leave your tongue filmy nor cause rare respiratory diseases.
Here’s how to do it:
PUT POPCORN KERNELS IN A PAPER BAG
Place ¼ cup uncooked popcorn kernels in a brown paper lunch bag. (NOTE: To avoid the possible use of metallic paints, this should be a plain, unadorned paper bag. I once used a Hello Kitty–themed paper bag, and Hello Kitty's face caught on fire.) No need to add any oil at this point — it's not necessary for cooking and it'll just soak through the bag and get your microwave all greasy.
FOLD THE BAG TO SEAL
Fold the top of the bag down about half an inch to seal it. Then fold it a second time, pressing firmly. You want to make sure the bag is securely closed so it doesn’t burst open as the kernels begin to pop.
PUT THE BAG IN THE MICROWAVE
Place the bag upright in the microwave and set the microwave on high for 2½ minutes. Then stay nearby and listen: You want to stop the microwave soon after the popping noises slow to avoid overcooking, regardless of whether or not the 2½ minutes are up. The popcorn will be ready faster if you have a powerful microwave. Open the bag carefully, keeping your face and fingers away from the steam.
FLAVOR THE POPCORN
Technically, you could add your flavorings right to the bag at this point, but that can get a little messy. I like to pour the popcorn into my largest mixing bowl, mostly because I (shhh) usually make a double batch and want to have plenty of room for mixing in the toppings.
And the beauty of making homemade popcorn is that you can flavor it however you want. Like it savory? Add olive oil, Parmesan, and rosemary. Like it spicy? Add coconut oil and cayenne. Like it to leave a weird, fake-y film on your tongue? You're on your own. I like to stir in any wet toppings (like butter or oil) first to give the dry toppings (salt, spices, sugar) something to cling to.
My favorite topping is just melted butter and salt, but sometimes, when I decide to be “healthy,” I top my popcorn with delicious, virtuous-sounding products from the health food store, like nutritional yeast (or, as my Epi coworker Matt Duckor calls them, "Flavor Flakes"), which adds a salty, nutty kick, and a few drops of coconut aminos, which tastes sort of like sweet soy sauce.
And then I eat 10 cups of popcorn before deciding to go full force and raiding my kids’ candy stash. Because the only thing that compares with movie theater popcorn? Movie theater candy.