You may or may not already know this about me, but I’m totally lame.
Other than going to work, I rarely ever leave the house. I loathe going into Manhattan, especially to go shopping, and thanks to the magic of the internet I don’t even have to leave the house to buy underwear!
I can remember a time (in my 20s) when my social calendar was overflowing, but over the years I started going out less and less. I got married, I took a stressful job, I got two little dogs, I started a food blog, I started trying to save rather than spend extra money. Before I knew it all these things added up to me going home, cooking dinner, and watching the Walking Dead after work rather than going out drinking with friends.
A few weeks ago, some amazing friends of mine invited me to the movies with them. It was a hard choice to make, whether to sit on my duff in front of the TV or to go talk to live humans in the wilderness of Williamsburg Brooklyn, but after some soul searching and option weighing I chose human interaction. Weird right?
Thing is, going to the movies in New York City is expensive. Like crazy expensive.
We discussed picking up snacks on the way to smuggle into the theater, but before I left the house a funny thing happened. Russell was out of town and I was alone at home on my day off and I was bored. I started getting excited about the prospect of leaving the house, and the next thing I knew I was in the kitchen.
Out of nowhere, I decided I needed to make caramel corn. I’ve only made caramel corn once before, but before I knew it the popcorn was popping and the caramel was bubbling away. You might not expect it, but caramel corn is actually a pretty easy recipe. Easy for homemade candy anyways. You don’t need a candy thermometer at all, just an easily adjusted burner and a good kitchen timer. And the ability to move quickly while handling bubbling hot sugar without injuring yourself.
I’ve been on a bit of a sesame oil kick lately, so I decided to swap some of the butter in the recipe for some nutty, toasty sesame oil. And some black sesame seeds. And why not, some crushed up toasted nori flakes too.
Before you turn your nose up at caramel corn with seaweed in it, rest assured this stuff is GOOOOOOOD. My friends were going crazy for it and impassioned whispers about how amazing it was could barely be heard over the movie. Weeks later they’re still cursing me for how good this stuff is and how they couldn’t stop eating it through the whole movie.
This is everything you want in good caramel corn with a little something extra. First you get the crunchy, sweet, salty, caramely, amazingness that you expect, but then you notice the nutty toasty sesame flavor and a gentle hint of salty brininess from the nori. The nori is really just a subtle hint that pairs incredibly with the sesame flavors and complements the salty caramel in a really modern, mature, and interesting way.
If you still really aren’t sold on the nori though, I promise you can leave it out and still maintain the modern and mature flavor of this caramel corn.
About a week later I actually made this recipe again at my grandmother’s behest. We were having the same friends over to watch the Oscars and planned to make some braised chicken for dinner. Grandma asked what I had planned for dessert, and when I said we weren’t having dessert she insisted that I couldn’t have a dinner party without something sweet at the end. So, with only an hour or two before I needed to start dinner, I decided to try another twist on this same recipe.
Never wanting to serve the same thing twice, I decided to make a few little changes to add a different flavor. I skipped the nori, and added a heaping tablespoon of srirachi chili sauce instead (added at the end with the vanilla and sesame oil).
This version was equally phenomenal, and I’d be really hard pressed to pick a favorite. Along with a great chili flavor, the Sriracha adds just a hint of lingering heat that’s amazing with the sweet buttery caramel and isn’t overpowering in any way. If you’re really not stoked on the idea of seaweed in your caramel corn, go ahead and try the sriracha version instead.
Nori and Black Sesame Caramel Corn
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/4 to 1/3 cup unpopped popcorn kernels (8 cups popped)
1/4 cup crushed nori (optional)
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 300.
Heat oil in a large heavy bottomed stockpot or dutch oven over medium high heat. Add popcorn and cover with a lid. Using potholders or a towel to hold the handles, shake the pot around to keep the kernels moving as they pop. When several seconds pass between pops, remove from heat. Remove and discard any un-popped kernels and return popcorn to the pot it was popped in. Crush nori up into small flakes with your hands and add, along with sesame seeds, to the pot with popcorn.
Combine brown sugar, butter, salt, and corn syrup in a medium sauce pan. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture begins to boil. Reduce heat to medium to maintain a moderate boil, and cook, without stirring, for exactly 5 minutes.
Remove pan from heat and stir in sesame oil, vanilla, and baking soda. Immediately pour caramel mixture over popcorn and gently toss toss toss to combine as quickly as you can. If you don’t work quickly the caramel will harden and become difficult to mix.
Spread popcorn in an even layer over a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, stir mixture around, and bake for 5 minutes more. Once cooled enough to handle gently toss the popcorn around so it doesn’t all stick together in one large block.
Store tightly covered for up to one week. It probably won’t last that long.
*variation: If you’re not sure about the nori but like a bit of heat, try skipping the nori and add a heaping tablespoon of sriracha along with the sesame oil and vanilla in the recipe.