Infused with smoky heat and a touch of sweetness, this is grown-up popcorn that's a perfect nibble with drinks. Hands off, kids!
I made bucketloads of this tasty popcorn over the holidays and it was still barely enough to meet demand. It's not shovel-into-your-face, movie-style popcorn – it's much more a highly addictive nibble with drinks. Little bowls of it scattered around a party give your guests something to munch on, which is practical and welcome, but they won't be gorging themselves on it because it's just the right side of being a little too hot and you won't have to keep refilling the bowls. Everyone wins.
Well, almost everyone. This is too full-on for children and needs to be kept away from their clammy little hands. If they're expecting a butter-drenched or caramel-covered little treat they'll be in for a big surprise and it'll all end in tears. Save yourself the trouble and shoo them away.
What makes it work so well is the intriguing combination of flavours. For a start, it's popped in chilli oil, and real chilli oil: the Chinese kind that you'd shake just a few drops of into a stir fry. So it starts at an advantage, with the corn itself infused with heat.
There's more heat, for sure, but it plays out as a short, sharp burst rather than a slow burn. Behind it, both smokiness and sweetness, thanks to the maple syrup and smoked paprika, and a little lingering depth from a touch of garlic powder.
A half-cup of popping corn will give you about 8 cups of the popped stuff. Unless you have a truly enormous pan (and the stove to match), for best results pop the corn in two batches and combine before seasoning.
Makes 8 cups.
½ cup popping corn
1 tablespoon chilli oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Measure the chilli oil and popping corn into a heavy-based pan with a lid. Stir to make sure the corn is well coated with oil, put the lid on and place over medium-high heat.
Once the corn starts popping, give the pan a shake or two. Cook until the popping slows down and remove the pan from the heat.
In a small bowl, stir together the smoked paprika, cayenne, garlic powder and salt. Set aside.
Tip the popcorn into a very roomy bowl and pour over the maple syrup. Toss with a couple of wooden spoons or spatulas until the syrup is distributed over all the popcorn. Sprinkle the seasonings, a teaspoon at a time, over the popcorn, tossing well between spoonfuls. Be patient and keep tossing until all the popcorn is thoroughly seasoned.