Pour a thin layer of cooking oil into a cold saucepan. I use canola or grapeseed oil. Pour in a single layer of popcorn kernels. Some people like to sprinkle in salt; I usually don’t.
[A brief, but timely, digression: do this only if you are an adult, are familiar with stoves, understand that touching hot things can cause injury, and that hot oil can splatter. Consider wearing oven mitts throughout. Eye protection, too. An apron (with ties safely tucked out of the way so they don’t catch fire) might be a good idea. Plus a long-sleeve shirt, long pants and sturdy closed-toe shoes. Also worth considering: do not do this alone; have a fully-charged fire extinguisher nearby and a first aid kit too. Plus a working telephone. Do not leave the kitchen at any point during this process.]
Cover the saucepan with a sheet of tin foil; crimp the foil around the edge of the saucepan so that the foil is secure. With a sharp knife, slice lots of little slits into the tin foil, to allow steam to escape. You’ll get less-crisp popcorn otherwise; worse, the tin foil might pop off, allowing dangerously hot kernels to zoom all over the kitchen. (I know this from personal experience.)
Put the saucepan on a stove element, with the heat at medium. Shake the pan occasionally as it heats. Shake constantly once the kernels start to pop to reduce risk of burning. Admire the indentations in the tin foil as the kernels strike it. Depending on your burned-popcorn risk threshold, remove from heat when the popping slows down a lot, or when it stops.
With the saucepan removed from heat, use a hand protected by an oven mitt, or a pair of tongs, to pull back the tin foil beginning with the far edge, so that steam, and a laggard kernel, doesn’t blast into your face.
I learned this technique from an episode of the TV show Mythbusters. The approach here has been adjusted to introduce more caution.
The resulting popcorn is better than the microwave kind, and is much less salty, unless you dump in a bunch of salt.
The saucepan I use has an eight-inch-diameter and is 3.5 inches high, bought at The Bay shortly after I graduated from university, after my mother declined to allow me to remove any more pans from her kitchen. But I digress again.
There are instructions floating around on the Internet that involve pouring kernels into a sheen of hot oil. I can see trouble with this approach, especially if you are klutz-prone like me. The argument for pouring kernels into hot oil is that the popping is more immediate and consistent. But, the tin foil approach becomes impractical because of the risk of injury. You’ll be forced to use a slightly askew lid while you shake, which requires a level of dexterity that is apt to elude me. I can’t embrace such a risky technique.
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