10.02.2010

The nine states

Oregon, Nevada, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, West Virginia, and my very own Commonwealth of Massachusetts, listen up! This one’s for you. I’ll explain, but first things first. The bottom line is this: I love this kettle corn.



I also love my mother-in-law, Sarah. She had a birthday at the end of August, and it was a big one, the kind that ends with a zero, and feels important. To celebrate, she and my father-in-law rented a house on the beach in Narragansett, Rhode Island, and invited their four kids (plus three spouses, an almost-spouse, and a 17-month old grandson) to join them for a long weekend. Sarah claimed it was a birthday gift to herself, on account of getting to spend a few days with all of us. That’s what she wanted most, she said. But I don’t know. With barbeques in the evenings, and early-morning sits on a seaside bench, and a knit hat that Sarah made and gifted to me, it kind of felt more like my birthday. Which, knowing Sarah, would no doubt make her very happy.



Eli and I arrived in Narragansett to a fully stocked kitchen. It was no surprise, given Sarah’s habit of traveling with enough food to feed a small army. There was meat in the fridge, fruit on the counter, potatoes blanching in a pot on the stove, and an enormous bag of kettle corn – something called Angie’s Kettle Corn – on the table. I eyed it warily. I think that I probably feel about large packages of food the way my cousin, Michelle, once felt about presents. Michelle’s in college now, but as a child, when it came time to open holiday gifts, she once burst into tears when confronted with a box half the size of her little body. I remember her wailing, “It’s too biiiiig!” She refused to open it. I didn’t get it. But now, I do. I get it, Michelle. There is something about industrial-sized packages of food – even very good food – that makes me feel the exact same way. It’s simply too much. It’s sensory overload, or the anticipation of sensory overload, or something. The summer before I went away to college, I worked as a waitress, and once a week it was my job to fill the ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise jars from the bulk containers in the walk-in fridge. It’s a task that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Have you ever stared into the gloppy depths of a 5-gallon tub of mayonnaise? I was mildly terrified, and it was thanks only to many slow, deep breaths that I made it through. I swore off condiments for a while after that.

A bloated bag of kettle corn’s got nothing on a giant vat of mayo, so when Sarah pulled open the package and pointed it in my general direction, I went for it. I am very brave. What I would discover over the next few days is that there is a reason for packaging this kettle corn in bags the size of overstuffed bed pillows. Unlike mayonnaise, kettle corn – this particular kettle corn, anyway – can and should be eaten by the handful. By the handsful, actually. Pack it up in bags any smaller, and you’d have little more than a single serving, barely enough to share. I would know, seeing as how I plowed through almost the entire bag all by myself during our stay. Eli and I visited his family again last weekend, and this time, Sarah had procured three bags (good lord!) for my – ahem, our – consumption. “I’ve never seen you snack like this,” my sister-in-law said. “It’s research,” I told her.



Research, indeed. The thing is, when you start in on this kettle corn, you don’t much feel like stopping. That’s all well and good if you happen to live in a place where Angie’s Kettle Corn is readily available. If only we all could be so lucky. Which brings us back to the residents of the nine states I called out at the beginning of this post, the states that, according to the company website, are bereft of Angie’s Kettle Corn. I could have moved – preferably to Minnesota to be close to company headquarters – but instead, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I did it for you. For us.

Kettle corn is, in theory, not all that exciting. It’s just sugared popcorn dusted with salt. Except there’s nothing “just” about it. The sugar melts in the hot oil and, as it cools, encases each popped kernel in a thin, glassy shell. Then comes the salt, and it’s so long! to whatever else you were planning on eating that day. I have skipped dinner exactly twice over the last month due to kettle corn overconsumption. I’m not proud; I just thought you should know. Consider it a warning. It’s the sweet and salty combination that does it. And the crunch doesn’t hurt. The effect is hypnotic. After a handful or two, I’m in a full-on kettle corn trance. Scoop. Eat. Repeat.



I hesitated to include that last photograph, given that it’s not a particularly flattering shot of my thighs. But the kettle corn looks damn good, and I know what really matters.

Kettle Corn
Inspired by Angie’s Kettle Corn

The only thing that could get in the way of a perfect batch of kettle corn is a layer of burnt kernels along the bottom of the pot. That’s true of all popcorn, to be sure, but the sugar in kettle corn heightens the risk. Here are two tips to keep your kettle corn from burning:

1. Remove the pot from the heat sooner than you normally would.
Over the years, I have refined my popcorn popping skills so that I end up with very few unpopped kernels at the bottom of the batch. Twice in my life I have actually popped every last one of those suckers, without scorching a single kernel. Those were big days for me, people. Big. But when it comes to kettle corn, I check my pride at the kitchen door, and I urge you to do the same. The sugar will burn before the popcorn, so if you wait until (what is typically) the very last moment to remove the pot from the heat, it will probably be too late. When the popping slows considerably – if you can count more than a second, two seconds, maximum, between pops – get that pot off of the flame! You’ll end up with more unpopped kernels at the bottom of the pot, but it’s a small price to pay for unscathed kettle corn.

2. Transfer the kettle corn immediately from the hot pot to a large bowl.
If you don’t, the sugar at the bottom of the pot will continue to cook, and might burn.

Most recipes for kettle corn – and popcorn, in general – call for some kind of vegetable oil, but I’ve been popping corn in olive oil for years. I like the stronger flavor, and I think it’s especially lovely in this sweet and salty recipe.

¾ c. corn kernels
1/3 c. olive oil (not extra-virgin), or enough to thickly coat the bottom of a large pot
¼ c. granulated sugar
Several generous pinches (about ½ tsp.) sea salt

Heat the oil and a couple of kernels in a large covered pot. Meanwhile, measure the corn kernels and sugar into a bowl so that you’re ready for a quick dump. When you hear the test kernels pop, remove the lid, and quickly pour the rest of the kernels and sugar into pot. Stir briefly to coat the kernels with oil and sugar, and replace the lid. With mitted hands, lift the pot by the handles (use your thumbs to keep the lid in place), and shake occasionally.

When the popping slows, remove the kettle corn from the heat, and immediately dump into a large bowl. Sprinkle with a few generous pinches of sea salt.

47 comments:

Jennifer said...

YAY for Mississippi :)

I love kettlecorn. I'd be happy subbing it for a few dinners just as well too! Thanks for a real homemade version! yum!

buttersweetmelody said...

I know what you mean, I could eat this stuff for the rest of my life and be happy. I don't buy it anymore cause is THAT dangerous. But I guess a little homemade can't hurt anyone right? ;)
Thanks!

-Amalia

http://buttersweetmelody.wordpress.com

Anali said...

Love this post! I haven't made popcorn in eons and I've never made kettle corn. Maybe it's time? : )

Jess said...

Yay indeed, Jennifer! As long as we're embracing this kettle corn for dinner thing, I suppose all that's left to do is to figure out a proper wine pairing, eh?

I know, Amalia. It really is dangerous, as you say. At least you get some "exercise" with all of the pot shaking that goes into the homemade version, right?

Thanks, Anali! I'm biased, of course, but yes, I'd say it's time.

LimeCake said...

i haven't made popcorn from scratch in ages! this is a really great snack. and really delicious too

Maddie said...

This kettle corn brings me back to age twelve, when I discovered the stuff at a county fair in Illinois. It's addictive—you're lucky your mother-in-law is generous enough to share it!

Side note: your pictures are always so beautiful—the light and composition are really welcoming. Do you shoot digital or film?

Tracy said...

This post read like a VERY GOOD book. I didn't want to stop. I don't think I've ever eaten kettle corn...

April in CT said...

Found you today via a Serious Eats link, and how timely it is. I experienced kettle corn just a few hours ago for the first time and I've told my husband he's got serious competition for first place in my heart right now. I am IN LOVE. We had maple kettle corn and it is indeed heaven in a bag and I am skipping supper tonight for your aforementioned over-consumption. I bet your method coupled with some maple sugar would be pure bliss! Thank you for the 'recipe'!

Cate said...

I eat way more popcorn than I would care to admit, and it has to be faintly sweet and faintly salty, and just a little spicy too. Sometimes. All this too say, I want to eat this now.

celebreatySarah said...

i had a great chat with Angie months ago for the CelebrEATy Circle...and her kettle corn, specially the caramel corn, is a snack I never will say no to.

Jess said...

Well, LimeCake, I think this recipe would make for a glorious return. Get popping!

I'm envious that you discovered kettle corn at such a young age, Maddie. I mourn my many kettle corn-less years. Obviously, I'm doing my best to make up for lost time.

And about my photos: First of all, thank you! I shoot both digital and film. In this post, you're looking at two digital shots (the top and the bottom) and two Polaroid photographs. In my other posts, I've included photos taken on various 35mm and medium format films, too.

Thank you, Tracy! That means a lot. Now, make yourself some kettle corn, girl!

I hear you, April. With all due respect to your husband, there's nothing quite like the love between a woman and her kettle corn. Maple sugar is a brilliant idea! I do wonder, though, how it would behave in this recipe. From what I remember, the consistency of maple sugar is different from granulated sugar, isn't it? I'm not sure it would melt down in the same way as the plain, white stuff, in which case the texture of the finished product might be different. If you give it a try, please do let us know how it goes.

Hi, Cate. A little spicy? How so? I'm intrigued.

celebreatySarah - I saw that caramel corn on their website, and wow, that stuff looks DANGEROUS. If ever you meet up with Angie again, shake her hand for me, would you?

El said...

Sounds like you have the popping method down pat. The trip sounds wonderful and the popcorn-divine.

Lewyintheuk said...

I love this idea! Kettle corn is one of those "why didn't i think of that"/"why haven't i heard of this" moments (I'm from New Zealand and live in England and kettle corn doesn't feature in either place). I tried this as soon as i read about it and love it! I used a korean sea salt which has lots of different sized grains and helped heighten the contrast between the sweet and salt. Thanks!

Jess said...

Hi, El. It took one sorry, scorched pot that I left on the flame a little too long, but now, yes, I think I've got it!

And hello, Lewyintheuk. I'm so happy to hear from the newly converted! Kettle corn's crazy stuff, isn't it? I've never heard of Korean sea salt, but now I'm dying to try it. From your description, it sounds quite beautiful, and just perfect for this recipe. I used Maldon sea salt in my last batch. I really enjoyed the flaky texture and milder salty flavor against the crunch and sweetness of the popcorn.

Rosiecat said...

Whew, I finally had a moment to read your latest post! Lots of good stuff here, Jess. The polaroid is fantastic. The black-and-white is beautiful and it seems so old-fashioned.

That's so random that there are only 9 states that don't carry Angie's Kettle Corn! Distribution is so odd. But I love your do-it-yourself spirit, and the generosity with which you share it with us. I'm not much of a popcorn-maker, but I never say no to a handful from someone else. Yum!

Char said...

sugar + salt = heaven!!

Danielle said...

Thanks for sharing this recipe with us--I fell in love with Kettle corn in the spring, in the weeks before my second baby was born. I thought it might have been the crazy 41 week hormones that made me think it was the greatest food on earth, but as it turns out, I'm still addicted. Can't wait to make. I'm a little embarrassed to say that I haven't made popcorn on the stove in years. I can't wait.

kamran siddiqi said...

I haven't had popcorn in the longest and kettle corn is definitely on the top of my favorite popcorns. Sometimes when I am eating kettle corn, I wish I had a bigger mouth because it's always just that good. Time to give your recipe a try! Great post! And amazing photos!

Jess said...

Thanks, Rosiecat. I really like that black and white film, too. It keeps surprising me.

That is an indisputable equation, if you ask me, Char.

Hi, Danielle. I love that the pull of this treat was so intense that you assumed a hormone-induced craving was behind it! So what if it's been a while since your last homemade batch. You know what they say about popping corn. No, wait, that's bicycles. It doesn't matter. The same is true for both things, I think.

Thanks, Kamran! A bigger mouth, yes! Or maybe a second mouth. Though a bigger one would probably draw less attention, so I take that back. Let's stick with your plan.

molly said...

I always did love Oregon. And kettle corn, well, rapture does come to mind. I've always considered it fair fare. But DIY kettle corn? Have mercy...

Andrea [bella eats] said...

Love this post...your mother-in-law sounds delightful! And I, too, love kettle corn. It became an obsession last year, and I've been trying various recipes to find the perfect homemade version. Have you seen Joy's Maple Bacon Kettle Corn? Oh my. http://www.joythebaker.com/blog/2010/09/maple-bacon-kettle-corn/

Jess said...

Hi, Molly. "Fair fare," indeed. I guess all I need now is a Ferris wheel in the living room, some blue-ribbon-hopeful livestock in the bedroom, and a pie eating contest at my table. One out of three, at least, can be arranged.

Whoa, that kettle corn looks insane, Andrea. Leave it to Joy! I'm curious about the variations you've tried. Say more!

jacqui | happyjackeats said...

i love that you're back here, but i miss you on flickr. i suppose i'm just being greedy, now...

Danielle said...

So I made this last night for a treat when Matt and I watched Dexter and it was so fabulous! Since it has been years since I've made popcorn on the stove, I was a bit nervous (naturally, popping corn is something to get nervous about), but I followed your instructions and it didn't burn! It was just delicious. Also, Matt loves your photos.

Thanks again!

Jess said...

Ah, Jacqui. I miss me on Flickr, too! It's not for lack of photos to share, I can tell you that. I've just been quite focused on work and keeping this blog well fed, lately. I'll make my way back there sooner or later. Hopefully sooner.

Danielle! Thank you so much for reporting back. A perfect pot on your first try, eh? You're a natural! I'm so happy to hear that you enjoyed it. About Dexter: I've never seen a full episode, but Eli's a fan of the show, and I've passed through the living room when it's been on. It looks wonderfully creepy (Michael C. Hall is so talented) and, I'd imagine, just as addictive as this kettle corn! Thanks to Matt about the photos.

Michele Napoli said...

This sounds divine. Just perfect for cold snowy weekends in the Northeast!

megan said...

Oh! There are so many things in the way of making this kettle corn - the lack of a proper pot, for one - but luckily I'm not in one of the nine states... ;)

xx
megan

Jess said...

Yes, Michele, I agree. And also for incessantly grey and drippy days, like the ones we've been having lately, I've found.

Well, Megan, I never thought I'd say these words, but get thee to a Super Target! (According to the Angie's website, that's where you can find their kettle corn in California.) Or, hey, maybe you could buy a big old pot there, instead?

Joanne said...

I tried kettle corn for the first time last year after being absolutely certain for most of my life that I wouldn't like it. But oh how wrong I was! That stuff really is magical. Thanks for sharing this recipe with us...although I think you've now fueled my addiction even more...

redmenace said...

What a wonderful blog. I'm glad to discover you! I, too, am overwhelmed by large quantities of food. I get it. I even detest large menus. Too much choice. There is one thing in this world, however, I could eat forever and forever. It's kettle corn. LOVE it. Thank you! xo

Jess said...

I know what you mean, Joanne. The idea of sweet popcorn is a little weird, at first, isn't it? Some things just need to be tasted! Very happy to hear that you've seen the light, and happier still to help with your supply.

Thanks, redmenace, and hello! So glad to have you here. I'm with you on large menus. They totally stress me out. I just read on your blog that you're avoiding carbohydrates right now for medical reasons. And here I am shoving a bowl of kettle corn in your face! What poor timing. I have a feeling, though, that kettle corn might make the perfect post-delivery snack. How about it?

Anonymous said...

Jess, have you ever visited the food52 website? Each week I go their site, I am secretly hoping to see a recipe of yours and your personal story about the recipe appearing as a weekly winner. In addition to winners, they also have weekly contests which asks readers to make some of the submitted recipes to test them and submit feedback and photos. Some of your recipes seem like they could easily win a place in their cookbook :-)

Julie said...

I discovered kettle corn made this way out in Tofino this summer.. we ate it every night while playing Blokus or reading or sitting around the campfire. We make it using our Whirly Pop popcorn maker (on the stovetop, but it has a handle crank that keeps the kernels from sitting too long and burning) and it's brilliant!

Jess said...

Thanks for your sweet note, Anonymous. Yes, I do know about food52, and I think it's an inspired project! There are so many talented and passionate home cooks out there, and I'm grateful to Amanda and Merrill for creating a space where we all can learn from one another. Though I've never submitted, I've tried a couple of recipes from the site, with excellent results. Most of the recipes on Sweet Amandine are adapted, and not originals, but I'll keep an eye on the weekly assignments, and if I have something to contribute, I'll consider it.

Hi, Julie. Tofino was good to you, wasn't it? You know, I've seen those Whirly Pop thingies, but I've never tried one. They look like toys to me, and I always wondered if they actually work. I guess they do! Brilliant, indeed.

Stephanie said...

Now this I can make without an oven! And a big bag of corn kernels just arrived in a care package, so I really CAN make it! Thank you for this.

Truth be told, I never tried kettle corn until I was nearly thirty, in Alaska, about to run a marathon. It was at the Anchorage fair outside the race expo. I was wary then, as well, when my friend bought the big bag. Needless to say, you and I are a lot alike. That bag and me became best friends.

Stephanie said...

Oh and of course I love that peel-apart. Making me bloody homesick!

Jess said...

That is some excellent care.

How about you bring that bag of corn over here right now and we'll pop it up and watch a movie or something, okay? Okay.

runnerbeans said...

I just made this kettle corn for an afternoon snack and it turned out wonderfully! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe. :)

Murasaki Shikibu said...

This sounds interesting. I'm gonna try making it!

Jess said...

Thanks so much for reporting back, runnerbeans! It makes me very happy to hear that it turned out well, and that you enjoyed it.

Yes, do give it a try Murasaki Shikibu. I hope you'll like it.

megan said...

Jess, this was a great addition to a Halloween party, thanks! Great for a bike, too - toss in the bag o' kernels and salt grinder, ride, use the hostess's pot. Perfect!

xx
megan

Jess said...

So happy to hear it, Megan. Thanks for reporting back. xo.

exsoloadsolem said...

April in CT- PLEASE tell me you acquired that maple kettle corn at Bishop's Orchards... AMAZING.

Jess- The Angie's Kettle Corn website appears to be lying. That, or it's been updated since you posted this. The store-finder section urges me to buy my kettle corn online (I'm located in Massachusetts)!! It's a good thing your post sold me on the product, as I tend to get squicky about ordering food online, especially in bulk.

I recently discovered your blog, by the way, and it now holds an honored place in my Google Reader. I am such a fan. :)

April in CT said...

exsoloadsolem - Right on!! That's exactly where I got it and I can neither confirm nor deny that I've been back since to get more! It's right on the way to a farm where we get our eggs and since Bishop's has that darned festival every Sunday it's so hard NOT to stop. We pull up, I jump out, pay for my loot and try not to tear into the bag before getting back in the car! lol

wren said...

OMG... YUM. I love kettle corn - L.O.V.E. I can't believe we don't have popcorn in the house! Thanks for the recipe!

Erik & Devan said...

For spicy, just add a bit of your favorite oil based hot sauce (start with several drops, and go from there next time) mixed in with the oil before you heat it. Just stir the sauce well (but not briskly) into the oil you are using. I find that jalapeno sauces give a nice flavor without too much heat, and habanero seems to give a nice punch without altering the flavor.

pcn said...

Olive oil burns at high temps doesn't it? and can also impart a flavour you may or may not want. I like to use grapeseed oil or canola.

Also, i experimented and used brown sugar instead, using a little more than you would use white sugar. It's like cracker jack, only hot and fresh.

Next i am going to experiment with putting some chopped nuts, like cashews, and/or pumpkin seeds in.

I'd like to get my hands on some Muscovado sugar, but will try Demerara next.

As a matter of fact our little health food store just got some (real) maple sugar in...