The Kitchn: Go retro with popcorn salad
Popcorn salad is a star at picnics and barbecues all across the Midwest. Undeniably curious in both title and texture, popcorn salad is a surprisingly delicious retro side dish whose satisfying crunch will keep you going back for more.
How to make popcorn salad
Popcorn salad is as easy as tossing a handful of ingredients together in a bowl. Be sure to use a bigger mixing bowl than you’d think, though — popcorn is light and will shift around easily. Give yourself lots of room to make sure everything is fully combined.
How far in advance can I make popcorn salad?
Popcorn salad encourages us to live in the moment, because it should be eaten immediately after it is prepared. You can make the dressing, cook the bacon, and prep the veggies ahead of time, but only toss it all together with the popcorn right before you’re about to enjoy it. Unsurprisingly, popcorn will absorb the dressing and soften quickly.
Can I use bagged popcorn for this salad?
We recommend using freshly popped popcorn — either kernels or microwaveable bags are fine, as long as they are unsalted and not buttery! Save those for your next movie instead. Bagged popcorn in the chip aisle doesn’t taste quite as fresh as when you make it yourself but if you’re really in a pinch, go ahead and use it. Just be sure to spring for unflavored popcorn because seasoned popcorn might make the salad too salty.
Serves 6 to 8
- 1/4 cup neutral oil, such as canola or vegetable
- 1/2 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
- 12 ounces thick-cut bacon (about 10 slices)
- 1/3 cup ranch dressing
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 stalks celery
- 1 (8-ounce) can sliced water chestnuts
- 2 large carrots
- 4 ounces white cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
- 2 medium scallions
1. Place 1/4 cup neutral oil and 1/2 cup unpopped popcorn kernels in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Cover and cook over medium-high heat until the first kernels pop. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook, shaking the pot occasionally, until the popping subsides, about 10 minutes from when you first turned on the heat. Uncover and remove from the heat.
2. Place 12 ounces thick-cut bacon in a large skillet (don’t worry about arranging in a perfectly even layer – just get them all in there). Cook over medium heat, flipping and stirring frequently, until crisp, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, make the dressing and prep the remaining ingredients.
3. Place 1/3 cup ranch dressing, 1/3 cup mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar, 2 teaspoons granulated sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Prepare the following, adding each to the bowl as you complete it: Thinly slice 4 celery stalks crosswise (about 2 cups). Drain and coarsely chop 1 (8-ounce) can sliced water chestnuts. Peel and grate 2 large carrots on the large holes of a box grater (about 1 cup). Grate 4 ounces white cheddar cheese on the large holes of a box grater (about 1 cup).
4. Thinly slice 2 medium scallions; reserve 1 tablespoon of the dark green parts for garnish, then add the remaining to the bowl. Stir until combined.
5. Line the cutting board with paper towels. When the bacon is ready, transfer to the paper towels. When cool enough to handle, coarsely chop.
6. Add 10 cups of the popcorn (reserve any extra for snacking) and the bacon the bowl and stir to combine, making sure the popcorn is fully coated in the dressing. Garnish with the reserved scallion greens and serve immediately.
Recipe note: You can use 10 cups already-popped unsalted popcorn if you don’t want to pop the corn yourself. This salad is best enjoyed immediately.