When the culinary intelligentsia and critics catalog the myriad culinary wonders produced by the American dessert-masters known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, the country fair-nosh known as “kettle corn” is consistently ignored. And that’s messed up because the idea of popping corn in a sugar syrup, which then forms a thin, candy coating perfectly balancing the texture and flavor of the corn (the exact salty/sweet gestalt that makes bacon bacon) is a profound expression of genius.
Temperature control is key and the eponymous vessel goes a long way toward making this miracle possible. As I don’t own a large copper kettle, I employ a slightly unorthodox method, which entails popping a small amount of corn and using that audible as a prompt to add the remaining kernels along with the sugar. It’s not an elegant hack, but it gets me where I want to go, back to the windy roads around Lancaster, Penn. Oh! And watch out for the buggies.
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 4 ounces mushroom popcorn kernels *
- 3 ounces granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
- Place the oil and a few popcorn kernels in a 6-quart metal mixing bowl. Cover with heavy-duty aluminum foil and poke 10 slits in the top with a knife.
- Place the bowl over medium-high heat and shake constantly using tongs to hold the bowl. Once the kernels pop, carefully add the remaining kernels, sugar and salt.
- Re-cover the bowl and return to medium high heat. Continue shaking constantly until the popcorn finishes popping, about 3 minutes.
- Remove the bowl from the heat and carefully remove the foil. Stir in the chili powder. Cool for 5 minutes before devouring.
*There are essentially two varieties of popcorn: snowflake and mushroom. Mushroom popcorn pops smooth and round and kind of resemble the tops of mushrooms. I like this type for kettle corn because the smooth, firm texture provides a good surface for the candy coating to form. Snowflake varieties pop in crazy irregular shapes and tend to capture powdered flavorings well. They also take up more space when popped which is why snowflake varieties are the standard for movie theaters, circuses, ballparks, etc.