Make Your Movie Night Pop: 5 Local Chefs Tell You How

It’s the old Chicago rub: World-class restaurants seem to spring up here every week. (Maybe it’s something in our soil.) But, as the temperatures get low, Chez Nous is really the only place we want to dine. Dinner? Movie? Wool blanket? From November through March, that’s our idea of a Michelin-worthy menu.
But, don’t be afraid of missing out, fellow winter hibernators — we’ve got good news for you. Gourmet popcorn is trending hard at local hot spots, and five of our favorite chefs have agreed to share their recipes for at-home popping. They’ve even thrown in suggested movie pairings.
With this guide, you don’t have to leave your love seat to get a taste of scene-y spots like Chuck’s Manufacturing and Sixteen. Now, you’ve got all the ingredients for a movie (night) with a happy ending.
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Pink Peppercorn and Bacon Popcorn, Justin Frankenberg, executive chef at Chuck’s Manufacturing

Suggested Movie Pairing: Reservoir Dogs

1 cup white popcorn kernels
3 tbsp bacon fat
1 tsp fine sea salt
2 tsp fine ground pink peppercorns
4 strips of bacon, cooked crisp and pulverized

1. In your popcorn machine or a pot, heat the bacon fat.
2. Add the popcorn and pop, moving it constantly to ensure that all kernels get popped.
3. Remove from heat and pour into a mixing bowl.
4. Add the salt, peppercorns, and pulverized bacon and mix well. Serve while hot.

Chuck’s Manufacturing, 224 North Michigan Avenue (at Lake Street); 312-334- 6700.

Photo: Courtesy of Justin Frankenberg
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Togarashi and Sesame Popcorn, Erik Chizeck, chef at Barrelhouse Flat

Suggested Movie Pairing: Glenngary Glen Ross

4 cups popped popcorn
2 tbsp of togarashi seasoning (available at your local Asian grocer or online at Asian Food Grocer)
1 tbsp sesame seed oil
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Salt to taste

1. Toss the popcorn with the sesame seed oil and the togarashi.
2. Add salt to your desired preference.
3. Sprinkle the green onions on top.

Barrelhouse Flat, 2624 North Lincoln Avenue (at Wrightwood Avenue); 773-857- 0421.

Photo: Courtesy of Erik Chizek
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Caramel Corn, Kate Milashus, executive pastry chef at ZED451

Suggested Movie Pairing: Young Frankenstein

Caramel Corn Ingredients:
1 stick of unsalted butter
16 oz granulated sugar
12 oz dark brown sugar
8 oz dark corn syrup (or light corn syrup)
2 tsp salt
16 oz popped popcorn
1 tsp baking soda

1. Pour the popcorn into a mixing bowl and set it aside.
2. Line sheet pans with Silpat baking mats, spray with cooking spray, and set aside.
3. Place all ingredients except popcorn and baking soda in a large saucepan.
4. Heat the saucepan over a low flame until the butter and sugar have melted.
5. Place a thermometer into the mixture and increase the heat to medium.
6. Bring the mixture to a boil, and keep boiling until the mixture reaches 250 degrees.
7. Take the mixture off the heat and stir in baking soda. The mixture should lighten, and become a bit fluffy.
8. Immediately pour the mixture over the popcorn.
9. Working quickly, stir caramel into the popcorn to coat evenly. Pour the caramel corn onto the sheet pans, spreading out (but not flattening) the corn.
10. Bake in a 200 degree oven for approximately one hour. Test the popcorn by taking out a small piece and letting it cool. If it’s crisp, it’s done; if it’s chewy and sticky, return it to the oven and check every 10 minutes until it’s crisp.
11. Once the caramel corn is done baking and still very warm, separate it into large bite-size pieces.

ZED451, 739 North Clark Street (at Superior Street); 312-266-6691.

Photo: Courtesy of Kate Milhaus
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“Cracker Jack” Popcorn, Patrick Fahy, executive pastry chef at Sixteen

Suggested Movie Pairing: Field of Dreams

4 oz. popped popcorn (plain or kettle-corn style)
1 cup sugar
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
Scant ½ cup corn syrup
1 1/8 cup toasted peanuts
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
¾ tsp baking soda
Nonstick cooking spray

1. Place the popped popcorn in an extra large, well-sprayed stainless steel bowl.
2. In a two quart pot, cook the sugar and water until the mixture becomes amber.
3. Add the vanilla, baking soda, butter, and salt. Be careful when adding the baking soda — the caramel will rise and bubble for a moment.
4. When the bubbling is controlled, add the nuts, stir briefly, and pour over the popcorn.
5. Stir quickly before the sugar cools so it coats the popcorn evenly.
6. Pour the popcorn onto a flat surface or onto sheet pans and try to separate the popcorn without touching it (try shaking the pan). Wait until it cools completely before eating.

Sixteen, 401 North Wabash Avenue (at Kinzie Street); 312-588-8151.

Photo: Courtesy of Patrick Fahy
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Bacon-Bourbon-Caramel Popcorn, Elaina Vazquez, owner and executive chef of Boutique Bites Catering

12 strips of bacon, reserve bacon fat
2 cups of unpopped kernels
1 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup maple syrup
½ cup bourbon
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
Vegetable oil
Fleur de sel

1. Fry bacon and set aside. Drain bacon fat and reserve for popping popcorn.
2. Put 4 tablespoons of reserved bacon fat in a large pot over medium heat. You will need 8 tablespoons total. If you don’t have that much bacon fat, add olive oil to the bacon fat.
3. Add 3 kernels to the pot. When they begin to pop, add 1 cup of popcorn (you’ll be making two batches), cover, and shake pot occasionally so popcorn doesn’t burn.
4. Remove pot from heat once popping has slowed, place popcorn in a large bowl.
5. Repeat for remaining batch.
6. Heat oven to 250 degrees.
7. Crumble bacon over finished popcorn.
8. In a large pot, bring butter, brown sugar, and maple syrup to a boil, stirring constantly.
9. Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes, then remove from heat.
10. Stir in bourbon, vanilla extract, salt, and baking soda. Warning: this mixture tends to take on a life of its own and might overflow—so use a pot that’s tall, just in case.
11. Pour caramel mixture over bacon and popcorn mixture.
12. Toss to coat evenly.
13. Spread mixture over two baking sheets covered in parchment.
14. Sprinkle each tray liberally with Fleur de sel.
15. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring the mixture every 15 minutes.
16. Remove from oven. Cool for one hour.

Boutique Bites Catering, 5717 North Elston Avenue (at Central Avenue) by appointment only; 773-313-3211.

Photo: Courtesy of Elaina Vasquez