Sunday dinner in my family home was served at about 3 p.m. I used to think that this mid-afternoon suppertime was a novelty invented by my mother, either as a ploy to get us into bed earlier in the evening, or as a cook’s convenience – it made sense to slow-roast a pork loin while we were all in church for a few hours. And it was a wonderful smell to come home to. Attendance at dinner was mandatory, and we were all required to bring clean hands and our best manners to the table. I now recognize this practice of dining in the afternoon as the English tradition of Sunday Lunch, or Sunday Roast, which is of course much older than my mother. I would guess that both of my parents grew up eating roasted meats and vegetables on Sunday afternoons, perhaps their parents, too.
My mother’s original twist on this tradition was popcorn. Once the dishes had all been done, the floors swept, naps taken, and appetites revived, my mother would stand at the stove and shake kernels back and forth in a wire mesh basket. Its long handle didn’t prevent your hands from getting dangerously close to a livid stove element, and it was a long process, making enough for all 9 of us.
So the invention of the hot-air popcorn blower was something of a watershed in our family history. It freed my mother’s hands to make carmel while the popcorn was popping. Anyone who has known her in the past 30 years has tasted her carmel popcorn. For probably a decade, Christmas Eve meant piling into the car with dozens of bags of puffed gold, and delivering them, along with mirthful carols, to friends around the city.
Although she’ll have my head for toying with such sacred family tradition, here is a new take on carmel popcorn featuring – you guessed it! – chipotle. Sounds weird, I know, but if you think salt does interesting things to carmel, hang on to your hairpins.
Chipotle carmel popcorn
adapted from Fat by Jennifer McLagan
8 cups popped popcorn
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup butter
2 tablespoons corn syrup
½ teaspoon sea salt or fleur de sel
1 ½ tablespoons purréed chipotle and adobe sauce
½ teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 250oF. Line baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
In a sauce pan, add sugar, butter, corn syrup and salt over medium heat. Stir until sugar melts and mixture comes to a boil and reaches 250oF on a candy thermometer. Remove pan from heat and stir in baking soda and chipotle.
Pour the mixture over the popcorn and stir well with a spatula.
Bake for 35 minutes, stirring a few times. Allow to cool and store in an airtight container.