Friday, March 7, 2014
Salty Toasty Umami Popcorn
I find myself refraining from looking at objects too closely. I suppose this is not a new development. Just one that I recently noticed. I resist inspection, as that could lead to seeing too much. Perhaps this stems from fear, as if one doesn't see it, one can pretend it never happened or doesn't exist. Or perhaps to retain the beauty, the perfections, as the cracks and the flaws can remain invisible when quickly looked over. Or perhaps, because quite frankly, I'm just not a visual thinker, so my mind glosses over things. This tendency stands in contrast to my son, who must inspect all the things very, very closely.
I suppose Max is on to something in this case. There are things I miss out on when I do my standard visual gloss over. I miss the curves and contours of a single piece of popcorn. The way the seasonings collect in the crevices. In this case, the speckles of salt and pepper that dot the surface, punctuating the white expanse with bits of color, directing your attention so that your eyes cannot help but be drawn to the sight of the glittery seasonings that await and your fingers are unable to do anything but grab a handful more. The clinging of the nutritional yeast, holding on to each popped kernel with all of its might, trying to stay connected to this source of warmth.
It seems like a physical impossibility that this shape, the shape in front of you even exists, as they once, just a few moments ago, were part of the uniformed soldiers of kernels, and now in what seems like a defiance of physical laws, each of these heated kernels has burst open and become an individual. An individual with its very own proportion of salt to pepper to cayenne to nutritional yeast.
While I have something to learn from Max about sight, I have one up on him when it comes to taste. Taste is not something to be rushed over. One must linger over each bite, finding the unexpected notes. The warm, toasted notes from the salt and the peppercorns. The way the Szechuan peppercorns open up taste buds, acting as an ambassador for the fiery notes of the cayenne. The umami that comes from the nutritional yeast. The subtle background noise of the olive oil, giving just a hint of fruit. This is a rather stripped down popcorn. But somehow it is still an electric one. Something I can't stop eating. I even catch myself admiring its appearance.
For the toasted salt and pepper:
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons Szechuan peppercorns
For the popcorn:
approximately 3 tablespoons canola oil (enough to cover the bottom of a large pot)
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
2 -3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1//2 teaspoons ground toasted salt/pepper mix
For the toasted salt and pepper: We got this technique from Fiona Smith's book Dim Sum. Place the salt and Szechuan peppercorns in a skillet and cook over low heat for about 3 minutes, until the mixture has become fragrant. Then run the mixture through a spice grinder.
For the popcorn: Heat the canola oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add three kernels of popcorn and cover pot with lid. Once those have popped, add 1/3 cup of kernels. Shake the pot frequently. In a small bowl, stir the melted butter and the sesame oil together. Once the popping has stopped, turn off heat, add the olive oil mixture and stir to coat. Add the rest of the seasonings.