Food — Blockbuster snacks for your movie

Blockbuster snacks for your movie

By Amy Diaz

Let’s all go to the lobby and buy ourselves some chicken tenders and hot dogs

You have to snack at the movies.

It’s sort of entrapment, really. You’re seated, they show you some pre-movie short involving dancing sodas, you have cup holders in your seat-arm and the giant boxes of candy are just a few steps away. The multiplexes make it difficult not to buy chocolaty, sugary or buttery treats.

There is, of course, a reason for this. While the studios make their big money on a film’s opening weekend, the movie theaters themselves make most of their money on concessions. It’s only later in the run that they receive a sizeable chunk of the ticket take. So, no matter what you pay for your admission ticket, it’s the popcorn and Diet Pepsi that really keeps the cinema in business.

Of course, not all cinema food is created equal. Some theaters have better food than others or offer a wide range of culinary oddities. And what about home movies? Just because it’s a DVD player and not a projector giving you the moving pictures doesn’t mean you have to scrimp on the snacks. What follows is not only a look at the concession stand landscape but also a recipe for creating your own memorable summer movie meals. So, let’s all go to the lobby…

Popcorn

How key is popcorn to the moviegoing experience?

For starters, it’s the only type of movie snack that has its own genre named after it (ever heard of a Sour Patch movie?). The popcorn movie — which more or less started with Star Wars, Jaws and the other action movies of the mid-to-late 1970s — is key to the summer movie season. (Think Independence Day or Jurassic Park.) But sometimes the corn is not quite up to the standards of the movie.

Generally speaking, movie theater popcorn is pretty awful. It’s frequently stale and weirdly flavored with that butter-ish-but-clearly-not-butter orange oil substance. After a few bites, you can understand why the medical establishment told everybody to stop eating this stuff a few years back. What you can’t understand is why this vaguely cardboard concoction cost $7.

For my moviegoing money, the best popcorn in the southern New Hampshire area is at Wilton Town Hall Theatre. They make it fresh. They use honest-to-God butter and actual salt. It tastes light and delicious and costs relatively little money (a dollar will buy you a good-sized portion).

Though this popcorn is a joy to eat, homemade popcorn can be even better. A variation of the oils (peanut, canola, safflower or other very light oils work best) can produce a variety of subtle taste differences. And when you make your own, you are free to add seasonings to your popcorn that expand the simple butter-and-salt standard. So how do you get the poppingest corn?

Start with a large, wide bowl where you want the popcorn to land and place it near the stove. Get saucepan with a lid. Cover the bottom with popcorn kernels. Pack ‘em in there but just one layer. No kernels riding piggyback. Then, place the saucepan, lid on, on the stove, over medium high heat. Make sure all the kernels in the saucepan sauna are well oiled. As soon as the popping begins, lift the pan off the direct heat and shake it slightly just above the burner. As the median corns start popping, you’ll want to shake with one hand while holding the lid down with the other. Depending on the size of your pan and the amount of corn, your popcorn will start to push against the lid and even start to raise it up. Keep control as much as possible and have your bowl nearby to dump in the popped corn. Once as many of your kernels as possible pop (you’ll almost never get them all to go), turn the heat off and dump all the corn into the bowl. You can, in the same saucepan where you just popped your corn and which should now be completely devoid of kernels, melt some butter,  about six tablespoons (3/4 of a stick) to start. Melt slowly, without burning or browning butter, and once all your butter is melted drizzle it over the corn, which (remember?) is in a very wide bowl. Toss with a wooden spoon and salt. Ah, popcorn perfection. Spice it up by sprinkling more than just salt. Try the seasonings from a ranch or onion dip or taco mix package, a few shakes of steak seasonings, parmesan cheese or a mix of cinnamon and sugar for a sweet kick to the corn.

Nachos

When did nachos become the new popcorn?

Suddenly, nachos are in every theater — even the lightly snacked Regals have nachos aplenty. The upside is that these salty corn chips provide a nice departure from the overly sweet offerings behind the glass on the counter. The downside is that I have my serious doubts about the nutritional value of that orange, goopy cheese.

Overlook the many calories you’re ingesting with each bite and the nachos do have a bad-for-you goodness. (The addition of the jalapeños available at most theaters doesn’t hurt either. After all, they’re sort of green.) The cheesiness and the hearty chips combine to form a snack that is more filling than the big box of candy. Plus, the cheez-food quality of the nacho cheese substance is often similar to the cheesetacular quality of many of your big-budget summer movies.

How do you get that swimming-in-cheese taste at home?

Nacho cheese dip

2 lbs. Velveeta cheese (yes, I know, but it melts like nobody’s business)

1 lb. Monterey Jack

1 lb. sharp cheddar cheese

1 stick butter

1 lg. onion, chopped fine

Cumin, salt, pepper and paprika to taste

Milk

Melt all cheeses at low temperature with butter in a sauce pan. Add remaining ingredients. Cook over low heat until good consistency. Small amount of milk may be added to achieve texture desired.

Hot Dog

If your trip to the concession stand is for a snack that will serve as a meal, go for the hot dog option.

I know, those dogs can look like they’ve been rotating on the heater since the first Star Wars movie came out but sometimes you’ll catch them when they’re fresh. The best time to go for a dog is in the early evening, when you’re likely to be one of many people ordering them (thus more likely to get a fresh one). The movie hot dogs seem to taste similar regardless of theater but the concession stand at the AMC Tynsborough does feature a nice spread of mustard and relish packets to give your dog a little flavor.

The best dogs get slightly charred on the grill. The second best dogs are heated up in a sauté pan, three or four at a time, with a small amount of water covering the bottom of the oiled pan. Cook until hot and plump.  In a lightly toasted bun, place dog and garnish with a small amount of grated cheddar and jalapeños or brown mustard and a bit of relish or some diced and sautéed peppers and onions or nothing — because some hot dogs can stand on their own. 

Candy

You try to be good, you try to stick with the non-butter popcorn and the diet drink.

But sooner or later, if you visit the movie theater enough you will buy some candy.

Though every movie of the moment seems to have its own tie-in candy (I ate those Cat In the Hat sour gummies for, like, months), I prefer the traditional movie candies. Specifically, when I indulge I try to go for the Goobers, the Ju Ju Bes, the Twizzlers or, that king of the cinema candy, the Junior Mint.

At home, you can, of course, choose as your movie companion any candy you would like. But why stop with something that is simply sweet? For a more sophisticated take on the Junior Mint, try this cocktail, found at www.drinksmixer.com:

Junior Mintini

1 oz vodka

1/2 oz white creme de menthe

1/2 oz white creme de cacao

Pour ingredients into shaker filled with ice, then pour into chilled martini glass. Garnish with chocolate stick and mint sprig.

Cinema rarity

Where else can you find exotic snacks at the movie theaters? Here are a few dining suggestions from local theaters:

Cinemagic Merrimack — Chicken tenders, French fries, mozzarella sticks and coffee.

Wilton Town Hall Theater — Sparkling water in a variety of flavors, homemade lemonade and, in the winter, coffee and hot tea.

Apple Tree Cinemas in Londonderry — Small pizzas, cappuccino and chai drinks, ice cream desserts, coffee.

AMC Tyngsborough — Small pizzas, hot dogs, pretzel bites.

The Loews at the Loop in Methuen — Chicken tenders, chicken sandwiches, small pizzas, curly fries, cookies, ice cream, pretzels, coffee, cappuccino drinks, hot dogs.

- Amy Diaz 

 
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