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It’s November, which means I’m doing the novel thing again, thus the seasonal blogging silence.  Things will pick back up again for the holidays, but for now I’m throwing out a very quick post about this year’s writing fuel, which is more a technique than a recipe.

Since the pre-fab microwave popcorn bags are overpriced, unnatural, and tend to burn as soon as you turn your back anyway, I’ve been making microwave popcorn basically using Alton Brown’s recipe forever. Unfortunately, while Alton’s recipe is definitely an improvement over the commercial stuff, the popcorn still has a nasty tendency to scorch if you don’t watch it like a hawk, and you also have to accept that at a quarter to a third is going to be unpopped waste.  Some indeterminate amount of time ago, I stumbled on an improvement that eliminates both the scorching and the waste problems.

The first part of the improvement is to use a very long, skinny paper bag, the kind that’s wrapped around your baguette or your wine bottle, rather than the standard brown paper lunch bag.  This type of bag works better for two reasons: first, because the narrower shape does a better job spreading out the kernels and funneling the popped away from the unpopped, reducing some of the scorching risk.  Second, because the fact that you can just fold over the top multiple times rather than having to staple it shut means you can keep re-opening the bag, removing the popped kernels, and putting the unpopped ones back for another round in the microwave.  This cyclical re-cooking process is the second part of the improvement.

Is the process fiddly?  Well, sure, because you’re going to be babysitting the microwave, stopping repeatedly to pour out and separate the contents, but this method also produces perfect popcorn in under ten minutes with no nose-punishing acrid fog that immediately permeates your whole house and lingers for hours.  And if you’re mentally blocked — say because your characters insist on sitting around having endless expository conversations rather than just doing something goddamnit — a nice mindless kitchen task with a snack as a reward might be just what you need!

Idiot-Proof Microwave Popcorn
Makes around 6 cups

¼ cup popcorn kernels
1 long, thin brown paper bag
Two large bowls for sorting
Popcorn garnishes of choice: melted butter, olive or flavored oil, salt, pepper, chili or curry powder, grated Parmesan, cinnamon sugar, etc.

Place the popcorn kernels into the bag and fold the top over three or so times to close.  Lay the bag flat in the microwave, folded edge facing down, and set the microwave for around 2 minutes on high, adding time as needed until regular popping noises start.  Continue adding time in 30-second increments until the popping audibly slows down, but don’t wait until it’s totally stopped or burning will be a foregone conclusion.

Unfold the bag top, pour the contents into the first bowl, and scoop the popped kernels off the top and into the second bowl.  Discard any semi-popped duds, and pour the completely unpopped kernels back into the bag, re-folding the top.

Repeat the process until all or nearly all of the kernels have been popped, or you have as much popcorn as you need.  Garnish as desired and serve.


My current favorite popcorn flavoring is really good extra-virgin olive oil, a lot of cracked pepper, and finely grated Reggiano Parmigiano, but a close second is butter and sugar mixed with pumpkin pie spice for that holiday feel.