I've been obsessed with it lately. I would say I don't know why, but actually I do. It's not because of it's sweet/salty goodness and wicked texture. It's not even so much about the kettle corn culture... although I am quite new to it, as it was never popular where i grew up. It's totally because of the science behind it which is so simple, and I want to know more about the process. That being~ the combination of really hot oil and sugar. What other culinary applications contain those 2 ingredients in this particular manner.
Ok, just what do we mean by kettle corn. I'm straight-up eliminating recipes that add the sugar after the popcorn is popped, like Rachael Ray's. Also, use of other strange ingredients, although I'm not opposed to using flavored kettle corn as an element on a dish. For basic purposes here, those recipes don't even count.
Simple web searches pop up equally-fascinated fans of the crunchy kernels such as this one (disturbingly goofy), this one (suburbanishly strange, but a good tutorial of making it at home... somehow, I feel I can trust her), this one (interesting use of excessive ingredients, but I don't like the method), this one (Pappy has the right tool for the job), this one (Fred does it with style!), and this one (Doug's got style too... I'll bet the triangle makes it taste better). And there are many many more.
I've also pulled up and read at least 30 recipes for it. Can't remember where I got this one, but it's so simple and widespread that there's no earthly reason to worry about someone claiming it as original.
1/2 cup good quality popcorn kernels
1/4 cup oil (I use peanut for pretty much everything)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
fine ground salt... to your idea of the perfect balance between sweet and salty
That's it. 4 ingredients. If you use brown sugar, you get caramel corn.
Put the oil and 3 kernels of the popcorn in the pot, and turn the heat up. Once the 3rd kernel pops (yes, there's always 3 and it's always the 3rd one), dump in the rest of the popcorn and the sugar, close the lid, and shake and heat and shake and heat and shake and heat until the popping stops. Dump out into a really big mixing bowl, and toss with salt long enough to separate the pops (the hot sugar coating will want to cling to the others for a few seconds).
What really hooked me into it was the step of dumping a bunch of sugar into smoking hot oil. That and the tiny sugar shell that forms around the kernels as they pop. How can this process be utilized with other ingredients or applications? Maybe using other oils? We thought about other popping grains like amaranth. Can it be duplicated with something other than grains?
espelette pepper kettle corn, coconut shrimp lolly
Since I've read so many summaries of kettle corn's history, I will give you a summary of the summaries. Native Americans invented popcorn. Either early immigrant Germans or Dutch in the Americas contributed to the evolution of the kettle corn process. In its original heyday, it was popular in rural areas and farm country. Kettle corn had practically vanished from sight in the US during the 1900's until about 10 years ago when it had a resurgence.
How did we ever let something so good almost dwindle into extinction?