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.

View the complete recipe


philogaia said...

Now that just plain looks amazing. I'm a total popcorn snob, tweaking recipes to get just the right balance of spices for what I'm craving. Portion control really has to come online for me. I will be trying this and reporting back, though I must say that there will be no cilantro involved. The evil herb can just ruin the nicest dishes for me. I might try a bit of thai basil, though...

agnesmargaretha said...

Hey, I just ate pad thai! ;) this could be interesting chef. Will give it a try. :)

Kath said...

That really does look fantastic!!

Anonymous said...

Can this be made ahead? If so, how long?

roddie said...

Made it tonight -- REALLY good, and very addictive.

Soren said...

Hi John
Just started following your blog - Tried the Creamy Tomato Tuna Penne for dinner! Amazing recipe. Thank you so much
Have you considered using palm sugar instead of brown sugar? Like the comment regarding the use of Tamarind sauce, I think this might give a more authentic taste, as the basis of pad thai sauce is just: Tamarind, Palm sugar, Fish sauce :)
Keep up the good work

kathryn_dc said...

I'm going to have to try this but with microwave popcorn. I haven't popped my own corn in years! (and could never get it right)

Chris said...

This is a great idea.

John, how about some porketta? Also a great idea ;)

Anonymous said...

i found a recipe online that called for microwaving the popcorn after the sauce is on it (instead of baking). That seems more streamlined, and the comments said it works. i'm curious what you think of the microwave idea.
(it's from allrecipes - not sure if you accept links in comments so I'm leaving it out).

Luke said...

Tasty, but fish sauce amount leaves it much too salty. I halved the fish sauce and still too salty. I think 1/3 the fish sauce and it would be right.

Mads Schmidt said...

I did a Beijing Duck version of this with duck fat, maltose and hoisin sauce instead of your ingredients... It was awesome...
I might do a Sichuan version at some point, that'll blow people's socks off!

Pantalone said...

I made this and substituted Light Agave Syrup and it tasted great! I also doubled the lime zest. Cheers!

Patti A said...

This is so delicious. We had only one lime, but we did have kaffir lime leaves, so we used the zest of one lime, plus a few very finely chopped kaffir lime leaves. Also added about a tablespoon of tamarind paste to the caramel sauce. Delicious and addictive.

Patti A said...

One more thing, we used butter in the caramel sauce instead of vegetable oil.

Ed the house chef said...

Lesson Learned:
First off, the taste of this popcorn as I'm eating it is great. BUT, if you find yourself with a late night craving for popcorn and start making this dish and then get too tired to wait for it to cool, do not...DO NOT let it cool in the oven on foil. What a sticky mess the next day. The parts that were salvageable were great. :)

Anonymous said...

I am doing this right now, it is in the oven and it looks amazing!!!
I love your recipes!

Anonymous said...

They taste delecious

Chef John said...

So glad! :)

Marian Parkes said...

So what's the answer for making this ahead. I'm thinking of taking it to a party tomorrow night and would love to know how well it will do made a few hours ahead. And on what may be a rainy day....


Chef John said...

Really best fresh! I've eaten the next day and it's ok, but any moisture (like maybe humidity or rain) and it starts to get soggy.

Marian Parkes said...

Do you think if I made it in the afternoon that it would be good for that evening?


Chef John said...

Should be! Just be sure it's cool before covering.

Unknown said...

Very much a crowd pleaser ! Surprising and discussion-sparking !

Thanks for the recipe Chef John, you definitely made our evening last Friday !


Dr. Jay

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Candice said...

Chef John or anyone else that may know, what the trick is to popping corn in a pot? I always seem to end up with too many kernels.

p.s. You make my day

Candice said...

Chef John or (anyone else that may know), what is the trick to popping corn in a pot?I always end up with too many kernels.

p.s.Your videos make my day

Chef John said...

No trick, just don't buy cheap popcorn! The premium brands pop better. Test a few to see.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely brilliant recipe, Chef John!

Any idea how long they can keep if they are stored in an air-tight jar?


Chef John said...

Not sure! They didn't last that long. ;)

Brian said...

Amazing recipe, Chef! I made it twice, and the first time just seemed to be missing... something.

The second time, I added a splash of soy sauce, a teaspoon of garlic, and - most importantly - a tablespoon of peanut butter to the simmering "syrrrrp." The difference was like night and day.

Thanks again!.

Miks Jurciks said...

Hey, Chef John, or anyone who can answer my questions, for that matter, I'd like to know if these substitutes are usable:
Instead of chilli - A small chilli cut in relatively small pieces. I know you mentioned that you can use fresh chillies, but they didn't disintegrate, or however you want to say it, and it didn't mix with the cara,el syrup, having separate small chillies scattered across the popcorn.
Instead of corn syrup - Honey. I live in a country where there's about 2 bottles of corn syrup in the entire country. So I looked up substitues, and honey popped up. BUT, I did not have that watery, glaze like, honey, I had it in it's wet sand like form, tou probably know what I'm talking about. It seemed to melt into that watery form overtime, because of oxygen I guess, it only melted when I exposed the honey to it.
Instead of cilantro - Basilik. I also saw it as a substitute for cilantro, and once again, I live in a country in which schoolkids, people at home and prisoners, eat all the same thing.
Instead of vegetable oil - Olive oil.

mikeinsiam said...

Just made the recipe..good stuff!! However, like almost every cook, I made some slight changes... I grew up in Thailand, have lived there for over 30 years and developed a taste for the sour/hot/pungent elements of cruisine; so I essentially doubled the lime juice, zest, fish sauce and dry Thai chili. It took a little longer to thicken up, but gave me a 'punchier' glaze. BTW Just so you know, sambal oelek is Indonesian. There is a similar wet chili product in Thailand but it is a bit different than the sambal.

Emily @ Gourmet Mommy said...

This recipe has become an annual Christmas tradition for me - I make it for my Mom every year and she loves and looks forward to it - so do I :) I pretty much make it as directed except that my Mom has a deathly peanut/nut allergy, so sans the peanuts (though one of these days I'm going to get around to making a batch WITH peanuts for myself!) It's the only caramel popcorn I really like, regular old stuff is just so bleh compared to this deliciousness.

Lickem said...

it looks tasty but... where's the tamarind, the "sour"?

KathyG said...

Hi John, I know I'm coming in well after the fact, but I have a kitchen science question: what purpose does the baking soda serve? Does the foaming action change the way the syrup sets up or is absorbed by the popcorn? Enquiring minds want to know.

Unknown said...

I tried making this last week. I thought it was a good base recipe, though it was missing some flavors. I decided to make it again, with some adjustments to suit my tastes. I found it to be very tasty!

1/3 to 1/2 cup popping corn kernels
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
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 or 3 tsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp Asian fish sauce
½ tbsp soy sauce
To finish the caramel sauce:
the zest of two limes
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 rounded tablespoon Sambal red chili sauce
1 cup pulverized dry-roasted, salted peanuts
rounded 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Popcorn: I popped mine in coconut oil with a touch of chili sesame oil.
Ginger: I cooked the ginger in the caramel.
Peanuts: In the video, the peanuts do not appear fine, so the first time around, I gave them a rough chop with a knife and it was not enough. This time around, I pulsed my peanuts in a food processor until the peanuts were very fine. I added them to the pan after adding the sambal, zest, and garlic, but before the baking soda. I really wanted the peanuts to stick to the popcorn. Note that the peanuts in this recipe are salted! I didn’t use salted the first time, which was fine, because I added salt at the end. It’s the little details…
Garlic: I added crushed garlic when I added the sambal and lime zest.
Cooking time: I cooked it at 250, turning every 15 for a total of 45 minutes. Then, I turned off my oven and propped the door open slightly for another 15 minutes. Stir the heck out of it so it doesn’t stick together!
Yeah, I reordered the ingredients so they’re more chronological. :P

Shout out to Chef John for making me a better cook!