My husband just looked at the title of this caramel corn recipe and misread furikake as fruitcake! Furikake is nothing like fruitcake, though the Japanese mixture of seaweed, sesame seeds, salt, and other savory-sweet bits is lively with color and texture. Sold in small jars at Japanese and Chinese markets, as well as at some specialty grocers, furikake is a quickie seasoning to perk up rice. At Roy Choi’s non-traditional A-Frame in Culver City, California, furikake is a seasoning for caramel corn.
Ever since I tasted the ‘furikake kettle corn’ at Choi’s restaurant, I’ve wanted to make some myself. It’s like Asian Cracker Jacks, blending Asian flavors with an American classic. The briny-salty-sweet result is a terrific nibble along with beer, wine, or cocktails. Actually, it’s just a good all around snack any time of the day. I typically think of caramel corn as a sweet but the furikake turns it into a savory, though you could certainly enjoy some with fruit as a dessert.
Yesterday, I made three (3!) batches of furikake caramel corn in order to arrive at the recipe posted here. All the batches were good and there is much leeway. At the end of the day, I became the proud owner of 2 1/2 gallons of furitake caramel corn. I hope to give it to friends and neighbors, along with eating a ton myself!
A few things I discovered along the way:
- It takes a mere 5 minutes to pop corn in a pot. My family and I used to make popcorn on the stove when I was growing up and that’s all I know. If you prefer to use a machine or microwave popcorn, go for it. But there’s very little hassle to do it the old-fashioned way. Plus, it is fun to feel the corn kernels explode in the pan as you shake it.
- Excellent organic popcorn is sold in bulk at health food store for less than about $1.75 a pound. I’ve kept some in my cupboard for a year and every kernel popped yesterday.
- For 4 cups of popcorn, you only need 2 tablespoons of popcorn kernels!
- Keeping the popped corn warm makes it easier to mix with the caramel coating. A little oil in the bowl prevents sticking. Wood or bamboo spatulas are great for mixing the ingredients without sticking.
- Use a candy (deep-fry) thermometer to gauge the sugar syrup temperature. Caramel corn is basically a confection so the temperature needs to be somewhat precise.
- Some recipes call for cooking the sugar syrup to a soft ball stage and then baking the coated popcorn. I found it easier to cook the syrup until hard crack and then pouring it over the popcorn and seasonings.
- The large amount of baking soda lightens the syrup.
- You can let the sugar mixture caramelize (darken) a bit more if you want a deep flavor. Dark brown sugar facilitates that because it contains molasses but you can push it more, if you like.
- When halving the recipe, cook the syrup in a deep 1 1/2-quart pan.
- For spice, add a touch of chile heat.
- I tried adding the seasonings to the caramel mixture and sprinkling it on the foil but the best was to sprinkle it on the popcorn before the caramel gets added. The seasonings adhered well.
Feel free to play with this recipe. It’s addictive to play with and eat.
Furitake Caramel Corn
Makes about 16 cups (4 quarts)
About 1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup popcorn
2 tablespoons furikake blend of your choice
1 generous teaspoon Japanese 7-pepper blend (shichimi togarashi) or Korean red pepper powder (gochu garu), optional
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
6 tablespoons water
6 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 to 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into several pieces (use max for buttery flavor but the popcorn will tend to be on the chewy side)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 generous teaspoon kosher salt
1. Smear a smidgen of oil in a very large bowl and set aside near the stove. Heat the oven to the lowest heat possible (about 170F) to keep the popcorn warm later.
2. Put the 1/4 cup oil and 1 popcorn kernel in a 5 or 6-quart pan. Cover and heat over high heat, until the kernel pops. Add the remaining popcorn and replace the cover.
Occasionally pick up the pan (use potholders) and vigorously shake it to ensure even cooking. When the kernels begin popping, shake frequently. When you no longer hear any kernels popping, remove the pan from the heat and give it a few more shakes for good measure.
Set the pan down and carefully remove the lid, lifting it away from you to avoid the hot steam.
Pour half of the popcorn into the bowl, keeping the remainder in the pan. Divide the furikake and pepper powder between the two, sprinkling it on. Put the bowl and pan of popcorn into the oven to keep warm.
3. In a deep medium saucepan, combine the two types of sugar, water, and corn syrup. Put a candy thermometer in place, then heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar has melted.
Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches hard crack (300F). Pull the pan off the heat. Stir it down to reduce the bubble action, then stir in the baking soda and salt. The mixture will now turn opaque and lighten in color. It will swell in volume.
Use two wooden spatulas to toss and coat the popcorn with the caramel and seasonings. Work gently but steadily. Pour the popcorn onto the foil, spreading it out. Use your hands or two forks to separate the popcorn into small clusters.
Cool completely before eating or storing in an airtight container. I lined the container (tin or plastic) with a paper bag to prevent sticking and absorb moisture. Some estimate that the caramel corn will keep for a week but I’ll likely eat and give mine away long before that.
Have other ideas for seasoning caramel corn? Do share!
- Kimchi sour cream and grilled artichokes (another recipe inspired by Roy Choi)
- Deviled eggs with kewpie mayonnaise and ichimi togarashi