A couple of summers ago, we happened upon a summer festival in the small coastal town where we were vacationing. Though we were delighted by the showcase of old (and still functioning) steam engine trains, the thing that piqued my interest the most was the huge man with the even huger beard making old-fashioned kettle corn over a roaring pile of burning logs.
The kettle being stirred by the man was enormous, I swear you could have fit both me and my son inside of it and still had room for some popcorn. When the fellow first dropped some handfuls of popcorn and sugar into the kettle, he kept the lid on top, flipping his stir stick around inside as best he could while still making certain to hold the lid close enough to the top of the kettle so the sizzling hot kernels of popcorn wouldn’t jump out and singe him. As the pile of popped corn began to grow, the man dispensed with the lid all together, stirring the contents of the kettle as they grew taller and fluffier, the popped kernels on top keeping the actively popping kernels on the bottom from leaping out of the kettle.
Call me naïve, but this process had me enraptured. Not because it seemed intoxicatingly complex, mind you (though that raging fire burning beneath the popcorn kettle presented many a challenge, I am sure), but rather because the opposite was very quickly becoming clear to me. I could totally make that at home, I thought, and as soon as we get home, I am so going to do it.
Cut to over a year later, and we get to the part of the story where I realize that, though I have certainly contemplated the making of kettle corn ever since I saw it being made right before my eyes, I never actually got around to tackling the experiment. Interestingly enough, in the intervening months of thinking about kettle corn, I had actually started to wonder if I could dress up the snack a bit, give it a bit more kick to offset the basic components of popcorn, oil, and sugar. Kettle corn was all right, but somehow all those months of thinking about making it had made me realize that what I really wanted to make was something still related to kettle corn, but stepped up a tad.
So, please allow me to introduce you to my new friend, kettle corn’s cousin, sweet and spicy popcorn. A tiny bit of cinnamon and nutmeg add a warm and savory touch to the taste of the lightly sweet and buttery popcorn, while the chipotle powder creeps in with a small punch of heat to keep every bite interesting. The flavor profile of this popcorn is simply a delight. There is a little bit of everything going at once, but not so much that it overwhelms your palette and exhausts your taste buds. Sometimes, because I am nothing if not super classy (what now?), I’ll pair this popcorn with a nice, crisp glass of white wine. And sometimes, because I am also a small child passing as an adult, I will eat this very combination of foods for dinner. Oops. I think I just killed the classy part.
Sweet and Spicy Popcorn
If you are making this treat for children or people who do not enjoy spicy food, feel free to omit the chipotle powder from the cooking process. You can, as I do when eating this with my son, keep some chipotle powder handy and sprinkle it on your own individual portion, leaving the master batch unspicy.
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder or hot chili powder, adjusted according to your preference for spicy foods
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup popcorn kernels
½ teaspoon sea salt
Combine cinnamon, chipotle powder, nutmeg, and sugar in a small bowl and set aside. In a large pot, heat butter and oil over medium low heat until the butter has melted. Add popcorn and sugar/spice mixture to the hot oil and butter, stir to combine, then place a lid on top of the pot.
Wearing oven mitts so as not to run the risk of burning yourself, gently shake and swirl the pot on top of the stove to keep the kernels moving around in the hot oil and butter. When the kernels begin to pop, continue to gently shake the pot until you can hear the popping subside. Immediately empty the popped corn into a large bowl, then sprinkle with salt.
Makes one very large bowl of popcorn.