Snack Recipe: Cheesy Spicy Popcorn

updated Jun 5, 2019
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

This is one of the quickest snacks around. And with such a high tastiness to ease ratio, there’s really no reason you shouldn’t give this recipe a shot. In a pinch — albeit a desperate one — I’ve even called this dinner.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

You make this popcorn almost as you would kettle corn. Throwing cheese (instead of sugar) into the pot as the popcorn is popping coats the kernels with cheese as they open. And that’s the trick. While I’ve seen popcorn made to completion and then sprinkled with cheese, this method makes for a bit more cheesiness. The best parts are the clumps bound together by pockets of melted cheese.

Since parmesan doesn’t melt in the same fashion as other cheeses— like cheddar or gruyere, for example— you won’t have to face any burning cheese in the pot. You’ll just enjoy a bit of that toasted cheese quality, almost reminiscent of when cheese hits the skillet as it oozes out of a grilled cheese sandwich. (Another quality dinner choice.)

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Tester’s Notes

I’ve always been intrigued by this recipe (I mean, cheesy spicy popcorn). But the reader comments indicated there were some problems with the recipe, and when Ariel wanted to include it on her menu for her Board Game Gathering, I thought it was high time I tested it out for myself.

The short answer: I actually really enjoyed this recipe, but I did make some changes (reflected now in the recipe below).

First, technique. Stovetop popcorn is really more about technique than a recipe. Good stovetop popcorn depends on a few things, in my opinion: stove heat that is closer to high than medium, frequent agitation of the pan (I prefer to lift the pan off the heat entirely while shaking or swirling), and a cover that lets the steam out while keeping the popcorn in. I used a method suggested by reader JordanW in this post: Cover the pan with a colander instead of a lid! This is rather brilliant, and it lets the steam vent while keeping the popcorn contained.

I also think that stovetop popcorn is best made with less oil, which can weigh the kernels down and make them soggy. So I cut the amount of oil called for here, and changed it to high-heat friendly oil instead of the original olive oil.

Last but not least, expectation. This recipe doesn’t turn out super fluffy popcorn that melts in your mouth. It’s firmer and crunchier, almost like the popcorn has been candied in the cheese. The cheese really permeates the popcorn, as Nora says, which I loved. I can see how this might not be to everyone’s liking. But I personally like really firm, crunchy popcorn — especially those half-popped kernels! — and I felt that this gave me that result. Faith March 28, 2014

Cheesy Spicy Popcorn

Makes about 8 cups

1 1/3 cups finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, chipotle, or smoked paprika, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
1/3 cup popcorn kernels

In a medium bowl, combine cheese, salt, and cayenne. Set aside.

In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add 3 popcorn kernels and cook uncovered until one or two pop.

Add the remaining popcorn kernels and cover the pot with an upside-down metal colander. Occasionally lift the pot from the stove and swirl or shake, holding the makeshift lid on with potholders. Wait for the popping to begin; this should take less than a minute. Once popping commences at a steady rate (about 10 to 20 seconds after the first pop or two), carefully lift the colander and quickly sprinkle in 1/3 cup of cheese mixture. Replace the colander and lift and shake the pot vigorously to distribute. Repeat this sprinkling process two more times throughout popping in order to get every kernel equally coated with cheese.

Transfer popcorn to a bowl and sprinkle remaining 1/3 cup cheese mixture on top. Lightly toss, season with additional salt and spices, if desired, and serve.