Amanda & Merrill

Party Popcorn

November 16, 2010

Spiced Popcorn

- Merrill

This post was inspired by my good friend Naomi, who always has a bowl of homemade popcorn amped up with some great mixture of herbs and spices at the ready when her guests arrive for cocktails. I thought I’d try her technique with a few spice/herb combinations of my own, the first being marjoram -- one of the unsung heroes of the herb world, in my opinion -- and paprika. This is an easy hors d’oeuvre for when you just don’t feel like whipping up a tray of canapés or an elegant cheese plate. I’ve added some other flavor ideas at the end of the recipe, and I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments section!

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Party Popcorn

Serves 6 as an hors d'oeuvre

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup popcorn kernels
  • kosher or Maldon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • ½ teaspoon sweet or hot paprika

1. In a large, heavy pot with a lid, heat the oil and butter over medium heat until the butter melts and starts to foam. Add the popcorn kernels and stir to coat. Cover the pot and, using good oven mitts, shake it once in a while until you hear the popcorn start to pop. 

2. Move the lid so it’s slightly ajar (so the steam can escape) and shake the pot gently but consistently until the popping subsides, which will take a couple of minutes. Take the pot off the heat and remove the lid, keeping your face away from the opening so you avoid any late-popping kernels.

3. Immediately sprinkle the marjoram and paprika (or whatever combo of herbs and spices you’re using) over the popcorn, rubbing the herbs between your fingers to release more of their flavor, and then add a few generous pinches of salt. Put the lid back on the pot and shake to distribute everything. Serve while still warm.

Popcorn with Marjoram and Paprika

Try these other flavor combinations:

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon garlic or onion powder

  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne

  • 1 teaspoon dried dill
  • ½ teaspoon lemon pepper

  • ½ teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
  • ½ teaspoon cumin

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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FreshLemonZest November 21, 2010
We infuse our oil with a sprig of rosemary before we pop the corn then add sea salt. The kitchen become soooo aromatic.
hslevin November 21, 2010
I'm literally ADDICTED to the following popcorn: I use white truffle oil for cooking the popcorn in a pot, then I mix the following spices together separately in jar: Spanish paprika (I buy the really good kind in the little tin at Whole Foods- I forget the name of it). Himalayan sea salt, fresh cracked tellicherry peppercorns and indian extra hot cayenne pepper, that I purchase from an indian grocery store. I use a tablespoon of each spice except the salt- I use a little less of that. I add the salt last, and taste the mixture before I sprinkle it on the freshly popped hot kernels. The aroma of the white truffle oil combined with the spanish paprika are pure heaven! I love spicy food, so this is my indulgence. I have to stop myself from wanting to make it nightly!
YukariSakamoto November 21, 2010
At our house we like to sprinkle on aonori. These sea vegetables are flakey and aromatic like the ocean. We love the Japanese potato chips that come pre-seasoned with aonori.

Also, have not tried it yet, but just saw a great garlicky popcorn made on Rick Bayless's program - looks like it will be addictive:
cambridgecook November 20, 2010
I usually sprinkle popcorn with butter, salt and Ethiopian berbere. Don't use too much - it's spicy! Last night I tried Penzey's Jerk Pork seasoning and that was great, too.
kikimama November 18, 2010
i like the idea of popcorn -- found a chili-lime version on epicurious i really liked. the idea of serving cheese before a dinner you've slaved over has always seemed a bad idea to me -- keep cheese for the (pre-)dessert, non?
bexcahlik November 18, 2010
I have a hot air corn popper that doesn't pop the corn in oil or butter. What do you think the best way to an olive oil or butter flavor over the popcorn? Would just drizzling olive oil or melted butter over the popcorn make it too heavy?
calendargirl November 17, 2010
One more thought: we've had great luck ordering from They have several varieties of popping corn, all colors, and none of it is genetically modified. Especially like the tiny white kernels.
Thistlepie November 21, 2010
Another good wy to know that our popcorn is not a GMO, buy organic kernels.
ETinDC November 17, 2010
You don't need the packages of salty, questionably-oily microwave popcorn to air-pop popcorn in the microwave. Just put a handful of kernels in a plain paper sandwich bag (the old-fashioned lightweight lunch sack kind), close by rolling the edge up tightly (while leaving plenty of room for expansion), and microwave for about 2 minutes, until the popping slows down and almost stops. Voila, air-popped popcorn ready to be topped with whatever butter, oil, spice or seasoning you like.

And for homemade kettle corn, take a heavy lidded pot, put a few spoonfuls of oil and a layer of popcorn kernels in the bottom of it, then sprinkle liberally with sugar (I use turbinado/Sugar in the Raw) and cook as Merrill describes above. The sugar will melt and coat the corn as it pops. Keep an eye on it so it doesn't scorch. Then add some salt before you eat. SO good.
Merrill S. November 17, 2010
Thanks so much for the great tips! Will have to try to make kettle corn -- which I love -- this way.
Thistlepie November 21, 2010
What great suggestions! Thank you! I have a microwave popping container but it doesn't allow for the release of the moisture so it doesn't pop very efficiently. I can't wait to try the paper bag idea.

Who knew kettle corn was so easy. I look forward to tryi g that as well. I wonder what spices or herbs you could add to the kettle corn. What about some dried lavender or root beer hyssop? Worth some experimenting.
monkeymom November 17, 2010
Has anyone found a way to make kettle-style corn at home? Love that sweet salty combo that's been seared into the popcorn flesh.
mtrelaun November 17, 2010
This is sort of like kettle korn. It comes from NY caterers who were featured on Gwyneth Paltrow's site,
monkeymom November 17, 2010
Oh, looks good! Love the cinnamon. Thanks too to ETinDC. Turbinado, must try that too.
mcs3000 November 17, 2010
Fired-up my Whirley Popper and made marjoram + hot paprika. Yum! Thanks, Merrill. Popcorn addicts: try Rancho Gordo's crimson red kernels.

I started experimenting with flavor combos when I saw some in Donna Hay's mag: chili + lime; balsamic vinegar + salt. 479 Popcorn makes 2 flavors I want to recreate at home: fiery habanero sugar; toasted coconut sugar. My default is Mad Hungry LSQ's cheesy corn made with parmesan. Next time, I'm going to add pepper like @calendargirl. @ricman525: holy moly, must try! @betteirene: Totally agree about microwave popcorn. As much as I love Ina Garten's books, I was bummed her latest includes microwave popcorn.
Merrill S. November 17, 2010
You're welcome! And thanks for the other suggestions.
calendargirl November 16, 2010
Try popping in olive oil and adding finely grated parmesan and a bit of pepper... addictive!
Merrill S. November 17, 2010
Sounds heavenly.
Diethood November 16, 2010
I am the only one in my circle of friends that plays up popcorn. I am glad to see that others do this as well. I usually pop the kernels in a couple of tablespoons peanut oil, then I start to play -sometimes I just add garlic salt, other times I mix it up with paprika and garlic powder, or I just sprinkle some sugar and cinnamon and have a go!
NWB November 16, 2010
I love to sprinkle Old Bay on my popcorn.
betteirene November 16, 2010
Thank you for helping my mission to get people to make "real" popcorn again. It's getting so hard to find a bag or jar of popcorn kernels in grocery stores, but that microwave stuff is all over the place. (I went to my local Safeway and Walmart to buy popcorn last week, and both stores were out, but thank you, Albertson's, even though you're the next town over.) The taste and the flavor possibilities, as you proved here, are endless; it makes it so worth having to wash the pot.
Merrill S. November 17, 2010
You're very welcome. The real deal is just so much better.
Kitchen B. November 16, 2010
Spent the entire weekend making finishing salts - Persian rose and vanilla, dried orange and cumin and dried lime and matcha - I think all of them, save maybe the rose salts would be superb and I will give it a try for sure this week. Another combo I would go for - toasted maple flakes, some sugar and salt! - a bit like salted caramel but not I love food52.
Merrill S. November 17, 2010
Wow, sounds like some of these would be amazing!
melissav November 16, 2010
I like to sprinkle Shichimi Togarashi on my popcorn. It is spicy and earthy.
mtrelaun November 16, 2010
I like mixing salty and sweet so I toss some brown sugar into the spice mix.
ricman525 November 16, 2010
I am hooked on popping in rendered bacon fat, adding garlic salt and cayenne.
Merrill S. November 17, 2010
Yes, please.
KitchenLittle November 16, 2010
I like to squeeze a lemon on top!
Sadassa_Ulna November 16, 2010
I like to pop popcorn in 2 T. canola oil plus one tablespoon toasted sesame oil. After popping I add Old Bay seasoning and salt, or salt and pepper, or other combos.
Merrill S. November 16, 2010
Thanks, everyone, for your great ideas! Will have to try some of them.