Use coconut oil to make various kinds of popcorn. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Get poppin’: How to make perfect popcorn at home

There’s nothing like the taste of freshly popped popcorn.

It’s the all-American snack we munch on while watching movies, cheering for our favorite sports teams, walking the grounds of festivals — and don’t forget while riding the school bus home on Popcorn Friday.

Whether in theaters and stadiums or at fairs and theme parks, Americans consume more popcorn by volume than any other snack.

The National Popcorn Institute estimates Americans eat 17 billion quarts of popped popcorn each year, with the average American consuming 58 quarts annually.

(Fifty-eight quarts may seem like a lot, but it’s actually not. A serving is one quart and there are 52 weeks in a year, so the average American snacks on popcorn about once a week.)

It may have the title as America’s favorite snack, but some of us like it more than others.

I bet I eat three times as much as the average American because I’m from Nebraska.

Let me explain.

Nebraska is the No. 1 producer of popcorn in the United States. According to Nebraska’s Department of Agriculture, there’s about a 50/50 chance that the popcorn you eat was grown on a farm in Nebraska.

Because Nebraska prides itself on its corn production (and consumption), there are popcorn stores there just like you would find ice cream shops here. In fact, some of the businesses offer both popular treats, where you can purchase popped popcorn by the bag and ice cream by the scoop.

When I was growing up in Lincoln, my family bought all of our popped popcorn at Colby Ridge. The store sells bags of popcorn in three sizes: the day pack at 1 gallon (10 cups), the party bag at 5 gallons (50 cups) and the bash bag with a whopping 18 gallons (180 cups) of popcorn.

Yes, sometimes we bought the bash bag, which is an impressive 32 inches tall and 13 inches wide. We love our popcorn. (That’s our treat that lasts a week when we fly back to Lincoln for a family reunion. We catch up with each other over bowls of popcorn.)

Colby Ridge’s bestseller is gourmet white popcorn salted to taste — but it also offers a long list of flavored popcorn, including caramel, cheese, kettle corn, cinnamon, toffee nut, cheesy jalapeno, caramel apple and tutti frutti. You can also buy candy-coated popcorn in all the colors of the rainbow and mixed bags with up to three of your favorite flavors.

Because we can’t pop over to Colby Ridge to buy a party bag of popcorn anymore, my family does what we can to replicate that taste of home.

After you’ve followed this recipe to make popcorn at home, you’ll turn your nose up at microwave and movie theater popcorn. In its purest form — that is, plain air-popped kernels — popcorn is a low-fat, low-calorie, whole-grain, antioxidant-rich snack.

It’s the added flavor of the coconut oil, which my mom discovered after moving to Mill Creek, that makes this popcorn smell and taste so delicious, I can easily eat three servings before the movie I’m watching is over.

I recommend that you invest in a Whirley-Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper so that you can make perfectly popped popcorn on the stove every time. (It’s $20 at Bed Bath & Beyond.)

The six-quart aluminum pan has a clip-on lid, a stainless-steel stirring system and a wooden handle that stays cool. The hand-crank allows you to continuously stir the corn to evenly distribute the oil and prevent it from burning.

Perfect stovetop popcorn

½ cup gourmet white popcorn kernels

1 tablespoon coconut oil

Popcorn salt to taste

With popper

Pour the coconut oil and popcorn kernels into the popper. Turn stove on to medium heat.

When you hear the first kernel pop, start turning the hand crank. Turn the crank continuously until you can count 2 seconds in between pops. Turn off heat and remove pan from stovetop.

While it’s still warm, salt popcorn to taste. I like to pour the popcorn into each bowl gradually, pausing at times to salt it.

Without popper

Melt the coconut oil in a large skillet on the stove over medium heat. When the coconut oil is melted, add three kernels to the pan and wait for them to pop.

Once the test kernels have popped, add just enough kernels to cover the bottom of the pan in a single layer, shake to coat the kernels with oil and cover with lid. Note: Depending on the size of your pan, this may be less than ½ cup. Too many kernels will “blow” the lid.

Corn will start to pop within 3 minutes. Shake pan every 10 seconds or so until you hear the popping slow down. When you can count 2 seconds between pops, turn off heat and remove pan from stovetop. Partially lift the lid to let steam escape. Shake again with lid on for another 10-20 seconds to prevent burning.

While it’s still warm, salt popcorn to taste.

A serving of popcorn is 2 tablespoons unpopped, which equals 1 quart when popped. Makes 4 servings.

Substitutions

You’re welcome to swap out the white popcorn with yellow or jewel popcorn.

If you don’t have coconut oil, you can substitute corn, canola or peanut oil.

Popcorn salt is a super-fine salt designed to coat popcorn. If you don’t have popcorn salt, you can make your own by grinding it in a coffee grinder for a few seconds.

While this recipe doesn’t call for melted butter or popcorn seasoning, you’re welcome to dress up your popcorn the way you like it.

Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; sbruestle @heraldnet.com. Twitter: @sarabruestle.

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