For months now, I’ve wanted a miso popcorn. I wanted – somehow, some way – for this salty staple of japanese cuisine involved in our snacking. My preoccupation is peculiar because I don’t really hanker for popcorn, unless we’re on a road trip (and we do take LOTS of these), and even then usually homemade caramel corn strikes my fancy, or the white cheddar variety from choice gas stations and roadside markets. Stopping and hunting it is even something I look forward to, and we usually have to stop for popcorn at least twice because someone (sweet husband) usually eats a majority of one of the bags. Ahem.
But this whole miso popcorn idea just wouldn’t leave my head, I’ve been cranking out batches of popped corn from our cast iron Dutch oven as if it was my job, tweaking something this way or that. In Istanbul last fall, I learned that for each element of a culinary creation, there is an usta (master) of that particular craft. This is to say that there is a specific someone (an usta) in charge of making the dough for baklava, another usta for making the filling, and still other ustas for layering the pastry, painting on the honey syrup, and baking the dessert in total. I couldn’t help but feel that I could apply for a position as a corn popping usta , and simultaneously know I’d be fired from the miso-butter usta job as I worked on the billionth batch of just-too-soggy-popcorn.
Popcorn – popped in your kitchen — isn’t actually so tough. The more you do it, the better you (and your popcorn) become at popping. You learn a few tricks (what level heat to use, what oil to select, how long to warm it, when to add the corn, how many shakes to give once the corn hits the heat, when to pull it from the flame) and you get stoked to have popcorn at a moments notice without those nasty microwave bags around. (Oh, it felt so good to TYPE that!)
But then, you have all that fluffy, crunchy corn, and you’ll want to dress it up, and there is an art to this – especially if you’re like me and like your popcorn to maintain all of its light, fluffy crunch, no matter what flavor it takes on. So, you can’t just dump on butter and call it a day, and you can’t just pour on any old caramel, shake a ridiculous amount of any old seasoning or a handful of salt. No. Because this can result in puckery popcorn, soggy popcorn, greasy popcorn, or downright un-tasty popcorn. With popcorn, as with so many other things, more does not equal better.
So, this whole miso thing. I don’t know where it started, but something about the dynamic umami flavor of popcorn just totally turned me on. So I tried making miso butter and pouring it over popped corn. This worked well enough, when we were really craving salty popcorn and we gobbled up the batch before the butter even cooled. But as soon as I took this same miso-butter popcorn on a road trip to Nevada, it became a soggy, in-edible mess. Back to the drawing board. What if I used less butter, less miso? What if I cooked some of the water out of the miso-butter? I baked miso, dehydrated miso, boiled it, burned it. I made miso powder, miso reduction, miso oil. Less-than-awesome-flavor and less-than-awesome-texture abound and nothing was quite fulfilling what I had dreamed of. So I started trying other savory, exotic combinations – dukkah + hazelnut, nori powder + coconut + sesame. Harissa + dill. I learned a lot about what we like (and don’t like in a popcorn.)
This whole process killed a lot of birds with a lot of stones. Trying so many techniques and flavors – really getting immersed/obsessed with an edible something results in a whole lot of delicious + creative things. Namely, a savory miso caramel made with honey (the recipe below.) It’s really delicious; not too soggy (even with the miso caramel on top,) not too salty, not too sweet, not too complex or particular. But also, a togarashi popcorn I threw together in a fit of rage while boycotting miso a couple of weeks back, which happens to be Derek’s favorite. And THIS is helpful, because now, when we need great packable snacks for road trips, we’ll get two bags from the moment we pull out of the driveway. I suppose this means we’ll have to find another thing to race each other into the convenience store for.
What are your favorite road trip snacks, and where are you finding them? Favorite popcorn recipes? Give them to me. Apparently, I can’t get enough popcorn. 🙂 – xo L
- 2 Tbsp coconut oil
- 1.5 Tbsp honey
- 1 Tbsp white miso
- 3/4 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
- 2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
- 2 Tbsp coconut oil
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 2 tsp shichimi togarashi
- 1 tbsp dill (fresh or dried)
- Heat the honey and miso in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until combined. Allow the honey mixture to come to a quick simmer BUT NOT A MINUTE MORE to get rid of a bit of the water. Remove from heat and immediately begin pouring over popcorn. I like to add a little, toss to combine, add a little more, toss to combine again. Once all the caramel is added, sprinkle with sesame seeds. Eat!
- Drizzle olive + sesame oils over popcorn; toss to coat. Sprinkle togarashi and dill over; toss again.