I have a deep dislike for food that is fancy just for the sake of being fancy. “Truffle” fries? They literally don’t taste like truffles and now these fries cost fourteen dollars. Showing off and displays of fake sophistication in the form of expensive or extravagant ingredients bums me out. I guess deep down I’m a grumpy old man who is also a minimalist and probably did too many drugs during the war.
At no time is it more apparent that I don’t like gratuitously fancy things than when I am eating a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. I love Hot Cheetos. Eating them reminds me of elementary school, when everyone would share them together on the yard, in-between rounds of double-dutch (which I could never quite do), along with those Mexican snacks/candies that are chili powder tubes of spicy, sweet, salty goo. Or those shakers with the powder version. If you went to elementary school anywhere in Los Angeles County (excluding certain neighborhoods) you probably know what I’m talking about.
I rediscovered Flamin’ Hot Cheetos a couple months ago when I was feeling nostalgic (i.e. tipsy at Ralph’s). They pair nicely with a glass of white wine (don’t laugh, I’m serious) and a terrible, cheesy, awful romcom.
The ingredients for the manufactured version of my favorite snack are, on their own, not what any living thing would consider food. But I wanted to keep reliving my youth. So I embarked on a journey to recreate the mysterious red powder that coats my memories so that I could put it on something that is actual food. This journey took me to shadowy corners of the internet, and led me to call several grocery stores looking for ingredients. I didn’t know grocery stores had phone numbers before this.
I finally tracked down a particularly hard-to-find ingredient at a Sprout’s. It’s a white powder that looks like salt but finer and is sour. They had it in the bulk spices section, so I had to put it in a small plastic bag in order to buy some. I wandered around the store holding a small bag of white powder looking for something else to buy so that I wouldn’t look like a weirdo. The more things I looked at, the more it seemed weird to buy a bag of white powder and one other random thing. White powder and sausages? White powder and a tomato? White powder and a different colored powder? So I just went with it. When the lady was ringing me up, she typed in the PLU number and said, “So, what do you use this for?” I had a couple of options. I could have said, “Definitely not drugs.” Or, “I’m an adult woman who is spending her afternoon recreating the red dust they put on Hot Cheetos.” I ended up saying, “Um, jam probably.” She was nice and believed me.
A note about ingredients: This recipe calls for a few unusual ingredients you may not have. They are necessary if you care about this tasting as close to the original as possible. Without them it’ll still be pretty good, but not the bomb.
Cheese powder: You are probably thinking, “I’m a normal person, so of course I don’t own cheese powder.” Well, rethink your life choices. Cheese powder is awesome. I’ve never regretted consuming cheese in any form. I got it at a regular grocery store near the spices, but higher quality versions can be found at fancy stores or online. Get some. You can put it on anything you would want cheese on (i.e. everything).
Citric acid: Sounds like weird science chemicals but is just the powdered version of the stuff that makes citrus fruits sour. It will give your seasoning the sour kick it needs that really makes it taste like the original. It can be found online or at health food stores.
Monosodium Glutamate: MSG is delicious and pretty widely used all over East Asia. This recipe will not be nearly as good without it. Don’t believe the hype and don’t be a chump. MSG is not bad for you. It was probably demonized because in the U.S. it’s typically only found in Chinese food (and junk food). You know how people feel about foreign and unfamiliar things. If you don’t believe me, read up: here and here. It can be found at regular grocery stores as a “salt alternative” or online like everything else on Earth.
For The Seasoning Mix:
This ratio makes a mixture that is slightly less spicy than actual Hot Cheetos. Adjust the amount of cayenne if you want it more or less spicy
1 teaspoon paprika
1 1/4 teaspoon cheddar cheese powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon + a pinch onion powder
1/4 teaspoon + a pinch garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/8 teaspoon + a pinch MSG
1/8 teaspoon + a pinch citric acid powder
1 pinch chili powder
A lot of these amounts have a pinch added to them. That’s because the first amount wasn’t quite enough and needed a little more to make it just right. This makes enough for the amount of popcorn listed below. Just combine everything in a small bowl and stir it so that it’s evenly mixed.
For The Popcorn:
Makes enough for 2-3 people and an hour or two of Netflix
a bit less than 1/2 cup of popping corn (fill below the line)
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons neutral oil, separated (I used light olive oil)
a pretty big pot (The one I used was 5 quarts. When the corn had popped, it was full except for a few inches at the top. So that’s how much popcorn this makes)
Ignore this if you’ve made popcorn in a pot before. If not, pour your 2 tablespoons of oil into the pot and turn the heat to medium. While it heats up, measure out your corn. Put a couple of kernels into the pot and put the lid on. Stay nearby and listen for a minute. When they pop, you know it’s hot enough. Pour in the rest of the corn and put the lid back on. In a minute or so you should start to hear popping. When the popping is continuous, holding the lid down, shake the pot back and forth, keeping it above the heat, while the kernels pop to keep everything evenly heated. Shake for a minute or so until the popping subsides. When the popping slows down and almost stops, turn the stove off and take the pot off the heat. Now you need to coat your popcorn with a little bit of oil so that the magical powder sticks. Evenly drizzle on a little of your remaining 2 teaspoons of oil, and fold in with a big spoon. Pour on a little more oil and stir again, and so on until you’ve used up the oil. Add your seasoning the same way. Shake some on, mix, and shake some more on until it’s coated to your liking.
Stay tuned next week for my recipe for truffle fries.