This post originally appeared in the June 29, 2020 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.
I’ve spent a lot of evenings during shelter-in-place trying to figure out what makes Bjorn Qorn so much better than the popcorn I make at home. For the uninitiated, Bjorn Qorn is a brand of popcorn with a cult following, whose most popular flavor features little more than salt and nutritional yeast. It’s very simple and extremely satisfying. But my attempts to recreate it, despite buying high-quality yeast and popcorn for my DIY version, didn’t stack up. After months of head-scratching, and many bowls of popcorn consumed, I realized what I needed to do to make the perfect popcorn: blend my seasonings.
What really sets Bjorn Qorn apart is the way the salt and yeast cling to every nook and cranny, adhering perfectly to each piece of popcorn. Mixing the seasonings in a blender, or pounding them with a mortar and pestle, gave me something much closer to that result. Popcorn’s a very good place to start, but this lesson applies nearly everywhere. Blending spices and seasonings before applying them has made pretty much all of my cooking better. I use my coffee grinder (I should really buy a proper spice grinder) to blend brown sugar, salt, paprika, and cumin to cover ribs and chicken. Dill seeds, black peppercorn, and whatever else I dig up from my spice drawer are pulverized to coat salmon. Even a simple combination of black pepper and salt can be blended before applying.
Blending spices ensures all the little seasoning particles are roughly the same size, allowing them to distribute more evenly. Big grains of salt or brown sugar don’t sink to the bottom of the bowl, getting left behind as I sprinkle my mixture over chicken thighs. The blending or pounding also opens up the spices, making their flavors more intense.
Admittedly, I don’t always follow my own advice. It’s not exactly a major undertaking, but blending spices takes more effort than I’m willing to put in some days. To avoid having to pound or blend every time I cook, I make bigger batches of seasoning mixtures to use throughout the week or month. Each glass jar gets a label, so that when I’m rummaging through the clutter of my pantry I know which seasoning is for chicken, for pork, or for vegetables.
Putting in the extra five minutes of work on a Sunday to prep some seasonings for the week is a small project, but it saves me on a Wednesday or Thursday, when my imagination is shot and I really don’t want to think about cooking. Recently, because we can’t cook and eat together during the pandemic, I’ve started making extra jars of seasoning blends to give to friends. It’s a small gesture, but it’s nice to know we’re eating the same meal in our separate bubbles, even if it’s just a bowl of popcorn with a dusting of salt and nutritional yeast.