Wok Popped Popcorn

Salted Caramel Popcorn, Malaysian style...
I've only eaten sweet popcorn growing up. It was a shock to my unsuspecting taste buds when I first tasted salty popcorn in Australia!  Blergh... lol.

To my child's eyes, the popcorn popping out of the machine in a cinema's lobby or in a shopping centre was like magic. It was not something that any household would 'make' in Malaysia. In fact, I thought it could only be done in that machine.

Many years after living in Australia, I started seeing little popcorn making home appliances in the market and was a little intrigued, so asked a friend if she knew of anyone who has used these things. She said no, but told me it was easy to make popcorn at home, we didn't need any fancy machine. She gave me the basics, but it still took me a few more years before I accidently saw "popping corn" on a supermarket shelf one day and bought a pack to try. Wanting sweet popcorn, and recalling how I saw those being made in the large commercial machines in cinemas, I tried making my own with corn, oil and sugar. Disaster! All I got was a sadly burnt pot :(. Apparently my basic theory to get sweet popcorn was seriously faulty lol.

Fast forward yet many years and quite a few experiments later, I think I have 'mastered' my own adaptation of not only popping corn, but flavouring said corn with a Malaysian twist by using Gula Melaka (Malaysian palm sugar) to make a sauce that is like salted caramel/butterscotch using just my trusty wok (so less washing up ...). Because we don't have massive sweet tooth, my version of salted caramel/butterscotch has just the slightest hint of sweetness which suits our personal tastes. However, the caramel/butterscotch recipe can easily be doubled to get a thicker coating for the popcorn.

Popcorn

Popcorn, coated with caramel sauce, cooling in wok
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons salted butter
1/2 cup popping corn

To make popcorn:
  1. In a wok over medium high heat, add oil, butter and 2 seeds of the popping corn. 
  2. Cover wok and when the 2 corn pop, add the rest of the corn to wok. 
  3. Stir briefly to coat corn with the heated oil, cover wok, and immediately remove the wok off the fire for 30 seconds.
  4. After 30 seconds, return wok to medium high heat, give corn a quick stir and cover with lid, leaving a small gap for steam to escape. 
  5. When corn starts popping, shake wok gently. 
  6. Remove from heat when popping slows to more than 2-3 seconds apart. 
  7. Transfer immediately to a large bowl, discarding any un-popped corn.
  8. Return wok to stove to make caramel coating.
Note: Replace butter with oil if desired.

Salted Caramel Sauce

80g butter
1/4 cup shaved Gula Melaka (or substitute with 1/4 cup brown sugar)
1 tablespoon rice malt syrup (or substitute with golden syrup or honey)
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional if using Gula Melaka)
1/2 teaspoon Himalayan salt
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate soda

To make caramel:
  1. Combine butter, sugar, water, and rice malt syrup in wok over medium heat. 
  2. Cook, stirring, for about 2 to 3 minutes or until sugar has dissolved. 
  3. Let mixture come to the boil, uncovered, for another 1-2 minutes or until mixture starts to thicken slightly (watch this to ensure mixture does not burn). Stir vanilla (if using), salt and bicarb soda into mixture. 
  4. Reduce fire to very low, then add popcorn and toss with 2 spatulas until sauce is lightly and evenly distributed on popcorn. The longer you toss, the drier/crispier (less sticky) the popcorn will become.
  5. Turn off fire and set aside popcorn to cool. Store in an airtight container.
Note: If you like a much sweeter/thicker caramel coating on your popcorn, double this caramel recipe.