There is no need to freak out over popcorn salad

Popcorn meets Molly Yeh
Popcorn meets Molly Yeh
Photo: Amanda Edwards (Getty Images), LOIC VENANCE (Getty Images)

Molly Yeh is the star of Food Network’s Girl Meets Farm, a cooking show based in the Midwest. On a recent episode of said show, she made a savory salad with popcorn, and the entire internet is freaking out about it. Once again, I find myself saddened and disappointed by the People of the Internet. Why are you accepting what “The Man” says you can or cannot put into salads? When you spend your Sundays flipping out over this sort of stuff on Twitter, you’re doing exactly what The Man wants you to do: shooting down any deviation from the norm.

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Now, before you head straight down to the comments section to voice your furious opinions on a salad you’ve never tasted, take a few moments to review the facts.

Fact: Popcorn is nothing but corn

If Yeh put regular old kernel corn in this salad, nobody would be blinking an eye, and kernel corn is way more flavorful than popcorn, which, let’s be real, barely has any flavor. That’s why people coat their popcorn in things like butter, salt, cheddar cheese powder, caramel, chocolate, candy, etc. etc. etc. It’s not inherently sweet or savory, because it’s plain-ass corn, just like the cornmeal we turn into cornbread and muffins, and the stoneground grits that are as good with butter and sugar as they are with shrimp and cheese. (In fact, you can make a killer shrimp and grits using popcorn in only 15 minutes. Popcorn is much more respectful of your time than sluggish, fussy grits have ever been.)

Fact: We already add crunchy corn snacks to plenty of recipes

The reason we eat popcorn at the movies instead of buckets of creamed corn is the texture, which makes it highly snackable. It’s the same reason we love tortilla chips, another crunchy corn-based snack that we use in all manner of savory applications, from crumbling into casseroles to simmering in salsa to make chilaquiles. There’s also cornflakes, which have long been used as a coating for quasi-healthy oven fried chicken, and decisively unhealthy deep fried chicken tenders. Hell, even chicken coated with Cap’n Crunch is commonly accepted. Cap’n. Goddamn. Crunch. And yet America thinks popcorn is a bridge too far?

Fact: The “but it’s going to be soggy!” argument is total malarkey

Yes, the popcorn will get slightly soggy. So do croutons in green salad and the bread in panzanella salad. If we didn’t like making crunchy things soft we wouldn’t pour milk on our cereal, spend our Sunday mornings making French toast, or participate in thrilling discussions about stuffing every November.

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Fact: The concept of “salad” isn’t as narrow as we like to think

I grew up always viewing Midwestern food as a foreign perversion of cuisine where something containing mini marshmallows or suspended in Jell-O could be considered “salad.” It took being blinded by love and marrying into a family of Iowans to at last open my eyes: the word “salad” is a broad term that can refer to anything made from a hodgepodge of ingredients and served either cold or at room temperature. It’s a different vernacular for an entire category of food, and I didn’t speak the language.

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It’s easy to hate on Midwestern salads because the term applies to a broad spectrum of dishes, and just like any other genre of cuisine, there are bound to be plenty of losers amidst the winners. But this vastness makes the salad world practically infinite in its potential. Tangy coleslaw tossed with toasty almonds, sweet Mandarin oranges, and crunchy crumbled ramen noodles? Salad. Cool Whip, pretzels, and strawberry Jell-O? Salad. Everything is allowed to be salad! The genre has already hit rock bottom (check out the photos in this bad boy), so no matter what crazy concoctions your brain decides to try, you can never be the worst. Of course popcorn belongs in a salad, especially one that’s being featured on a TV show about Midwestern cuisine that’s hosted by someone who’s from the Midwest. Because anything you dream can become salad, and Molly Yeh understands that.

Fact: If this was being served at a Michelin restaurant people would say it’s genius

That 15-minute shrimp and grits recipe I mentioned earlier came from EL Ideas, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Chicago. Eleven Madison Park, which was named the World’s Best Restaurant in 2017, has served popcorn with seared tuna, and the legendary Jean-Georges Vongerichten has paired popcorn with sea bass. No one batted an eye over any of this, nor did tens of thousands of people had any issues about dropping a few hundred bucks to eat it.

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Instead of being outraged over salad because Twitter told us to be, we should be praising Molly Yeh’s popcorn salad for what it represents: imagination, and a bit of courage. This salad doesn’t need to answer to anyone; it only needs to be true to itself, and to taste good. I haven’t made it yet, but I intend to. Because who knows what culinary wonders we miss out on by being judgy on Twitter?

Allison Robicelli is a writer, recipe czar, former professional chef, author of four (quite good) books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Tweet me for recipe help: @Robicellis.

DISCUSSION

Popcorn being paired with things is fine. Maybe not my bag, but fine. Popcorn in a salad, soaked in dressing? Nope. Sorry. The “’But it’s going to get soggy!’ argument is total malarkey’” argument is total malarkey. Chips in salad retain their crunch for a good long while. Croutons also. But once they are soggy, they’re terrible. Even the soaked stale bread in a panzanilla has a texture that still says “Hey, I’m bread,” so it gets a pass, I guess.

Popcorn turns slimy, soft, and chewy at the slightest hint of moisture. I often eat it by popping it in my mouth one kernel at a time and letting it melt. It’s that lack of resistance to moisture that makes wet popcorn’s texture entirely off-putting. Moisture turns popcorn into the antithesis of itself. It takes everything you love about popcorn, and subverts it.

The “It’s just corn!” argument also falls flat. With this logic, people who love grapes would also love raisins. And this is not the case because the properties of a raisin are completely different from those of a grape, despite being the exact same thing. I don’t hate either but I submit that they have different uses (albeit with some crossover). But. please let me know when you put actual grapes into your oatmeal cookies because raisins are just grapes.

Sorry, but your hot take just reads as a frantic scrambling. Striving to sell ketchup popsicles to women in white gloves. Love you and love The Takeout, but I can’t get on board. (Don’t grey me!)