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Popcorn can be boring.  As much as I love butter and salt, and I do love butter and salt, shoveling greasy handfuls of soggy popcorn into my facehole gets old within a few bites.  Luckily, we don’t have to rely on Orville and Redenbacher for the flavors we crave.  Using tapioca maltodextrin, a modified starch with an amazing talent for dehydrating fats, we can create flavored powders from a wide variety of foods.  In this recipe, we’re powdering duck fat to get all the flavor without the oily mess.  If you’re a popcorn fan, don’t just stop here – you can use the same basic technique for blue cheese and hot sauce, smoked salmon and cream cheese, barbeque, white chocolate, or any number of other bold toppings.

Makes: enough to season one bag of microwave popcorn, amply
Total kitchen time: 15 minutes

Shopping list:

  • 40g rendered duck fat
  • 25g tapioca maltodextrin
  • 1.5g cornstarch
  • 5g sea salt, or ultrafine salt
  • 1 bag microwaveable popcorn – unsalted
  • neutral oil in a spritzer, or 1 tsp. extra rendered duck fat

 

  1. Heat 40g duck fat in a skillet until it is completely liquid.  Transfer to a medium bowl.
  2. Add 20g of the tapioca maltodextrin (reserving 5g) and stir to combine with a fork.  Add the cornstarch and continue stirring.  The cornstarch will help prevent clumping.  The mixture should turn to a very light powder.  If it is still a thick paste, add the remaining 5g of maltodextrin and continue stirring.
  3. If using sea salt, add 5g to a clean coffee grinder.  Grind 30 seconds, or until the salt is very finely ground.  Set aside.
  4. Pop the popcorn, following the directions on your microwave and transfer to a large bowl.  If using an oil-free popcorn, spritz the popcorn with just enough oil to make it slightly sticky.  If you don’t have a spritzer, drizzle over 1 tsp. of melted duck fat to barely moisten the popcorn.
  5. Add the duck fat powder and toss to coat.  Add half the finely ground salt, then adjust the rest to taste.

This technique works best when powdering pure fats like duck fat or olive oil.  For powdering other fatty substances like cheeses, you will need to increase your ratio of maltodextrin and combine with the other ingredients in a blender.  It will turn into a thick, sticky goop, which you can spread thinly onto parchment and dehydrate in a low oven for a few hours.  When it’s brittle, drop it into a clean coffee grinder and pulse until you’ve got powder!  For an example, see the powdered cheese I made for my Most Pretentious Mac & Cheese Ever.

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olive oil powder copy

Molecular gastronomy, the geekiest incarnation of cooking known to man, has recently piqued my interest.  Foams and spherification and liquid nitrogen and the like aren’t particularly common on Seattle menus, but on a recent trip to Spur Gastropub, my dessert was adorned with a pinch of powdered olive oil.  The powder was a delightful surprise – it tastes just like olive oil, and when the dry granules hit your tongue, they dissolve almost instantly.  When I got home, I looked online for a recipe for olive oil powder, but came up empty handed.  I did, however, find an article that described using tapioca maltodextrin to dehydrate olive oil.  I don’t have any maltodextrin, but I did know where to find some instant tapioca mix.  A few hours of experimentation later, and I had a viable recipe.

Total kitchen time: 5 minutes
Makes: 1/2 cup of powder

Shopping list:

  • 1 3oz. package Jello Cook & Serve Fat Free Tapioca Mix
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  1. Using a sieve or a fine mesh strainer, sift the tapioca to remove the little tapioca balls.  Discard the balls.
  2. Place sifted tapioca powder and 1 tbsp. olive oil in a small food processor and pulse on high until blended.  Add the remaining olive oil, 1/4 tsp. at a time just until it forms a spreadable paste.  You may not need to use all of the olive oil – the paste should feel chalky.
  3. Spread the olive oil mixture in an even layer on a microwavable plate.  Microwave on high for 90 seconds.  Remove and let cool 5 minutes.
  4. Using the tines of a fork, break the cooled paste into small pieces.  Store in an airtight container up to 2 weeks.

This powder is an excellent addition to a bowl of ice cream or other sweet dishes.  Unfortunately, since we’re using off-the-shelf tapioca mix, we do get some of the tapioca flavor.  However, the overwhelming taste is definitely olive oil, and unless you’re ready to start ordering commercial food chemicals, this method ain’t bad for $2.30.

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