Popcorn, America's favorite and oldest snack, is one of the simplest, too — just corn kernels, oil and salt.

But there's one simple technique that separates the good from the great, created and widely shared by chef Jessica Koslow of Sqirl restaurant in Los Angeles. Koslow uses far more oil than familiar recipes to achieve a popcorn that's crisp, tender and flavorful. Goodbye, air popper, and no more microwave packets for me. Koslow's method is the first step in making make a variety of seasoned popcorns that rival those in gourmet packages priced like a chunk of artisan cheese.

The recipe calls for a half-cup of oil to a third of a cup of popcorn kernels. Using more oil than corn infuses the kernels with the richness and crunchiness of a potato chip. The kernels retain their sturdy texture, so you can pop and season the popcorn for a party to serve later in the day or tote to a potluck.

The best oils are those with a high smoke point and neutral, clean flavor — grapeseed, sunflower, safflower and corn oil all work well. You can achieve a buttery flavor by using half oil and half ghee. (Adding melted butter after the popcorn has been popped turns it soggy.) Try using half hazelnut oil for nuttiness, coconut oil for a sweet or curried popcorn, or a good peppery olive oil with savory dried marjoram. Be sure to use dry seasonings after the corn is popped — ground spices, chiles, seasoned salts, dried herbs. Moist ingredients such as grated cheeses, lemon zest and fresh herbs wilt the popcorn's crisp texture.

But when the popcorn is this nicely crisped, just toss with sea salt for the ultimate snack.

Popcorn 3 Ways

Makes about 12 cups.

Use this basic recipe, then vary the flavors using the suggestions below. Season to taste and create your own gourmet popcorn. From Beth Dooley.

• 1/2 c. neutral oil such as sunflower, corn, etc.

• 1/3 c. popcorn kernels

• Fine sea salt to taste


In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot set over medium-high heat, heat the oil and several popcorn kernels. When the kernels begin to pop, pour in the remaining kernels. Lower the heat to medium and cover almost entirely, but leave a tiny crack so that steam escapes. (Be sure that the crack is facing away from you so you don't get hit with flying kernels or spattering oil.)

Cook, shaking frequently, until you hear the popping stop. Transfer the popcorn to a bowl and toss with salt to taste and preferred seasoning.

Chili Bacon Popcorn: Add 1 tablespoon bacon grease to the oil before popping the corn. Transfer the popped popcorn to a big bowl and toss with salt to taste, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder and 1/4 cup of cooked, crumbled bacon.

Sweet and Spicy Popcorn: Add 1 tablespoon hazelnut oil (optional) to the oil before popping the corn. Transfer the popped popcorn to a big bowl and toss with salt to taste, 1 teaspoon sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of hot pepper flakes.

Salt and Pepper Popcorn with Roasted Chestnuts: Transfer the popcorn to a big bowl and toss with 1/4 cup roasted, chopped chestnuts and salt and pepper to taste. To roast chestnuts: Using a sharp paring knife, score 1/2 cup chestnuts on their flat side. Scatter on a baking sheet and roast in a 350-degree oven until the peels curl and expose the chestnut flesh, about 10 minutes. Remove, allow to cool, peel and chop the chestnuts.

Beth Dooley is the author of "The Perennial Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.