Chef Shane Lyons has fond childhood memories of chowing down on popcorn tossed with nutritional yeast, then licking the sticky residue from his fingers. "I love thinking back to the simple joys of being a kid," he says.
Now, as the chef/owner of New York's Distilled, Lyons serves a gratis bowl of popcorn to every table at the start of a meal. When developing his recipe, Lyons toyed with a variety of potential seasonings, including bacon and ranch, but kept coming back to his childhood standby, nutritional yeast.
Many test batches later, Lyons settled on tossing the yeast with a salty-sweet combination of sugar, garlic powder and sea salt; toasted cumin for warmth; and the mild, smoky heat of gochugaru, a Korean pantry staple similar to smoked paprika. Together, the spice blend "fires up every taste bud," says Lyons, who now uses this so-called "Magic Dust" (see the recipe) widely across his kitchen. Here's how to bring it into yours.
Better than butter: "Magic Dust"
Magic Popcorn: Lyons believes popcorn should hit your whole palate with earthy, protein-rich flavors. Add a quarter cup of Magic Dust to one cup of un-popped kernels, then air-pop or cook with butter and canola oil on the stovetop until fully popped. While warm, toss the kernels with an additional quarter cup of the dust for a sweet and slightly smoky treat.
Ranch Dressing: For a lighter spin on the classic creamy dressing, swap the mayo or buttermilk in a traditional ranch recipe for drained firm tofu, whizzing it in a blender to combine, and use Magic Dust in lieu of other spices. The resulting dip still tastes plenty rich without the caloric overload.
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Great Gravy: Adding an ounce of Magic Dust to the flour in a roux goes a long way toward building a more complex gravy. The spices toast as the roux comes together, adding subtle sweetness, smoke and heat. Lyons likes to pair Magic Dust-enhanced gravy with Merguez sausage, which plays well with the warm spice of the cumin and gochugaru.
Turkey Burgers: Use the dust as a straight-up seasoning for turkey or chicken burgers, which have a milder flavor than their beef or pork counterparts. Add one ounce of Magic Dust to every pound of lean ground poultry, folding it in as you form the meat into patties, then allow them to rest in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight before cooking. The yeast adds a nutty character; the cumin, garlic and chile punch up the umami; and the salt and sugar act as a mild cure, flavoring the meat from the inside out.
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