Monday, May 7, 2012

“Pad Thai” Popcorn – How Five Seconds of Late-Night TV Changed the Future of Caramel Corn

Every once in a great while, I get a food wish from someone I admire and respect so much that I just can’t say no. This “Pad Thai” popcorn recipe was their latest request, and as always, I was more than thrilled to make this very influential person’s snack dream come true. Who is this mystery foodie? Me!

I was channel surfing late one night, and caught the very tail end of a show featuring a hot spot in Charleston, SC, called The Gin Joint. The theme was unique bar eats, and the host was talking about something called, “Pad Thai” popcorn. What was that?

I heard those words, and saw maybe five seconds of footage of what looked like caramel corn in a basket, and that was it. Frustrated, but quite excited, I jumped online to find the bar’s website, and hopefully the recipe. Nothing.

There were a few links with people talking about it, and a couple cell pictures, but no actual official recipe to be found. So, I decided to give myself a food wish – figure out how to recreate this extraordinary-sounding snack. I decided to simply fortify a standard caramel corn recipe with peanuts, lime, hot chilies, fish sauce, and cilantro.

Maybe it was beginner’s luck, or the collective consciousness of all the poor souls who’ve tasted that popcorn and desperately wished they could make it at home, but it came out incredibly well. Crispy, crunchy, sweet, spicy, aromatic, and awesome! You know I’m a fan of the hyperbole, but it’s with all sincerity that I say, this may be the greatest caramel popcorn-related snack breakthrough since balls.

By the way, since this was my first attempt, please feel free to adjust the ingredients amounts and report back. I think next time I’ll add a bit more lime and fish sauce, for a little extra kick. I may also explore using tamarind juice and/or palm sugar. Anyway, I hope you give this unbelievably addictive “Pad Thai” popcorn a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for about 8 cups of Pad Thai Popcorn:
1/3 to 1/2 cup popping corn kernels (roughly 8 cups prepared popcorn)
1 cup finely chopped dry-roasted, salted peanuts
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
For the caramel sauce:
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup corn syrup
2 or 3 tsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp freshly grated lime zest
1 1/2 tbsp Asian fish sauce (fyi, if you don't use fish sauce, you'll have to add salt)
1 rounded tablespoon Sambal red chili sauce, or very finely diced fresh hot chilies
rounded 1/4 teaspoon baking soda (not baking powder)
*bake 45 minutes at 250 degrees F., tossing 3 or 4 times during the cooking.

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