The Vic and Awesome Popcorn
For a while, after law school, I worked at the Vic Theatre in Chicago. While chasing The Dream with my band, I worked as a bouncer and bartender to support myself before the inevitable ascent to rock stardom and riches.
Working at the Vic was cool: free concerts, fun people, the occasional celebrity, and Brew & View (watch movies while drinking beer? you gotta be shittin' me). Another great thing about the Vic? Popcorn. Great popcorn. People would often stop in, telling us they'd driven miles out of their way just to buy a bag. The stuff was awesome. Truly Old School. As in, Old School Movie Theater.
Let me briefly elaborate. Back in the day, movie theaters sold the best popcorn. It was truly knock-down good. Some folks would go to the movies as an excuse to buy the stuff. I did. It was that good.
The Health Freaks
Then came the health freaks. In case you've forgotten (or are too young to remember), these health crusaders began protesting the theaters and their popcorn because, they claimed, it was bad for you. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the undisputed leader of America's "food police," began a scare campaign, claiming back in 1992 that a typical medium-sized "butter" popcorn contained "more artery-clogging fat than a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and a steak dinner with all the trimmings — combined!”
Since then, CSPI has campaigned against many other "bad" foods: fettuccine alfredo, mozzerella sticks, buffalo wings, beef and cheese nachos, gyros, milk shakes, cheesecake, and, of course, pizza (after all, pizza has cheese on it). As a rule of thumb, if it tastes good, this militant group has attempted to remove it from your diet, whether you like it or not.
Incidentally, they've also railed against vegetables: “Naturally, you should eat lots of them, because they’re good for you,” a critic of CSPI once wrote. “Just keep in mind that they may be killing you.” After all, CSPI insists that the pesticides on fruits and vegetables can lead to cancer.
I Digress . . . Back to the Venerable Vic
In any event, before the early 90's, theater popcorn was the bomb, and the Vic continued making the Goodness, despite health trends of the day. And we loved them for it.
The Vic, however, was in the minority. Most theaters in the United States stopped making really good popcorn back in the early 90's. Sadly, this sorry state of popcorn-affairs remains . . . to this very day.
Alas, there is something we can do about it. We have the knowledge and, therefore, the power, to affect change. We can make our own homemade, theater-style popcorn. To assist in this admirable aim, and for the Good of the General Public, I will now share the simple secrets to preparing awesome theater-style popcorn from scratch.
Simple Steps to Building Better Popcorn
- Fresh Corn. Popcorn can get stale. You need a source of fresh kernels. I suggest getting a stash from a store that sells enough to maintain a fresh supply. Restaurant supply stores usually fit the bill. In Peoria, GFS (Gordon Food Service), 4608 N University St, is a good place to find it. Store it in an airtight container.
- Coconut Oil. Yes, coconut oil. Like butter and cheese, it's high in saturated fat. In excess, it's probably not good for you. But, as far as I can tell, debate still lingers regarding this ostracized oil. Some researchers claim it actually has health benefits (I dunno if this is quack science). But, here's a concept: Perhaps moderation is the key.
Regardless of the health implications, coconut oil is a pillar of theater popcorn taste -- so I deem it necessary to a better popcorn experience. To purchase coconut oil, you may have to visit an international grocer. It seems difficult to find in typical American grocery stores. In Peoria, you can purchase a jar in the Indian food section at the Lin Hing Oriental Market, across from Campus Town on Main St.
- Flavacol. Flavacol is the other secret ingredient. It's a flavored salt "substance." When added to the oil, it imparts theater taste and appearance to the popped corn. I don't know what's in this concoction, but it's good. Purchase some Flavacol at GFS when you buy the corn.
- Butter and Salt. You should add melted butter onto the popped corn. Some folks advocate clarified butter. And, of course, salt to taste (if needed after the Flavacol).
That's it. Pretty simple, really. Once you have the basic ingredients, you can eat to your heart's discontent. Of course, your tastes will dictate the appropriate amounts of oil and Flavacol to add to the corn. Let trial and error be your method. Let The Force be your guide. (Use the Force, Luke.)
For a good starting point, Linda recommends the following guidelines:
3/4 cup popcorn kernels
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon Flavacol
All placed over high heat in one of these:
Turn the Whirley-Pop's crank until the corn is done popping. Quickly transfer to a bowl. Add butter and salt to taste.
Enjoy. The Vic would be proud of you. I know I sure am.