Gnawing on sweet corn is a summertime ritual.
It’s a downright primal pleasure. Dignity tossed to the wind, lips glistening with butter, we gorge on cob after cob.
Of course, that’s not the only way to enjoy fresh sweet corn, which is good on and off the cob.
Just ask Anthony Patton, executive chef at Gray Ghost in Detroit. Corn’s potential, he maintains, is largely untapped. “Really have fun with it. You can do a lot with corn.”
“Corn is the top favorite vegetable,” says Richard Andres, co-owner of Tantre Farm in Chelsea.
Two varieties of Michigan corn — super-sweet “golden corn,” and the less-sweet, more intensely corn-flavored bi-color corn — offer delicious options.
Whichever you choose, forget about peeling back the husk to determine whether an ear is good. That husk protects the tender corn kernels and keeps them from drying out. For optimum quality, use the corn you buy as soon as possible, Andres advises. Reload your supply as new crops come in.
“If the ear is full and firm, that’s what we look for,” Andres says. “We pick about 10,000 ears a week by hand, so we pick by feel.”
corn preparation methods
“Corn is more versatile than people think,” Patton enthuses. “You can do a lot more with it than what you usually see. I try to get the most out of corn season because I love corn so much.”
Boil. Add flavor by mixing ingredients into your cooking liquid, In her cookbook, “Pearl’s Kitchen,” the late entertainer Pearl Bailey’s recipe for “Corn on the Cob, Mama Style,” for example, mixes in milk (whole or evaporated) and sugar. Reserve the cooking liquid to use in soups and sauces.
Grill. Grill corn shucked or unshucked. Soaking unshucked corn helps keep it moist. Grill shucked corn brushed very lightly with butter or olive oil for charring that caramelizes it and creates a dramatic look.
“I like to grill corn in the husk at home.” Patton says. “It adds an almost smoky flavor. Then just peel and wash it to get the strings off.”
Oven-roast. Briefly roast unshucked corn to concentrate the flavor.
Steam. Steamed corn retains more nutrients because they’re not lost in the cooking liquid.
Tasty ways to dish up more corn
Use a corn stripper to make quick work of removing the corn kernels from shucked cobs. Then put corn to good use.
Soups. Corn is an essential ingredient for chowders and vegetable soups but it’s also excellent in delicate cream and pureed soups. Simmering soups with stripped cobs that you discard just before serving adds depth of flavor and helps thicken the broth. Stripped cobs can also be the basis for stock.
“I make corn stock with cobs, water, onions, garlic and celery simmered together for 20 minutes,” Patton says. “Freeze it and use it to add sweet summer flavor later in the year.”
Mexican streetcorn. Saute oven-roasted corn and blend with Manchego, lime juice/zest and red pepper flakes.
Succotash. Simmer corn with okra, tomatoes, lima beans, garlic, vinegar and spices for a retro side dish. Add in bacon, sausage, seafood and/or cream and you’ve got a hearty entre.
Salads. Toss some raw corn into green salads and fruit salads.
Deserts. Think corn panna cotta, sweet corn gelato, sweet corn pie, etc. Or simply “get some vanilla ice cream, fold in sweet corn and top with a little caramel drizzle,” Patton suggests.
Preserving. “I try to make corn last as long as possible,” Patton says.
Shuck corn, strip the kernels and vac-pac in 1-cup portions. Picklecorn. Can some corn relish. Or dry the kernels in a dehydrator or low-temperature oven.
The bottom line?
“Corn can be a prominent part of eating when home cooks and restaurants do more with it than traditional preparations,” Patton says.
Vegetable Medley with Corn
More method than recipe, this dish lets you take advantage of corn and other seasonal vegetables as they become available. Adjust the mix as you’d like. The vegetables flavor one another.
Salt, to taste
Fingerling or new potatoes, cut into chunks
Green beans, topped, tailed and cut in half
Corn, shucked, ears cut in half
Salt the water and bring it to a boil in a large stockpot. Add the potatoes and boil for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they can easily be pierced with the tip of a chef’s knife. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in a covered bowl. Add the green beans to the water and boil for 3 to 4 minutes or until al dente. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the potatoes in the covered bowl. Add the spinach to the water and boil for 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in the bowl with the potatoes and the green beans. Add the corn to the water and boil for 5 minutes, or until desired tenderness. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the other vegetables. Arrange the cooked vegetables on a platter and serve.
Strain and reserve the broth to use as stock for soups and sauces.
Method provided by Richard Andres, Tantre Farm
Baked Tomatoes With Corn
1 cup corn kernels
4 to 6 small tomatoes, or 2 larger ones
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
To taste salt
To taste ground black pepper
½ cup burrata
4 teaspoons fresh basil, finely chopped
4 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the tops off the tomatoes and scoop out the centers. Set the scooped-out tomatoes and tops aside.
Heat the butter over medium-high heat in a medium skillet. Saute the corn and green pepper until slightly softened. Season with the salt and pepper and remove to a bowl. Add the burrata and stir gently to combine.
Place the hollowed-out tomatoes in a lightly oiled baking dish. Divide the corn and green pepper mixture among the tomatoes, then top with the basil and Parmesan cheese. Place the tops back on the tomatoes and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the tomato tops, then bake for an additional 15 minutes.
Recipe: Robin Watson
Corn and Summer Squash Soup
1 pound summer squash, lightly peeled
2 ears corn, shucked and stripped of kernels
3 large shallots, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
2½ cups water or vegetable stock
To taste salt
To taste ground black pepper
To taste fresh coriander leaves, chopped
To taste sour cream
Cut the summer squash crosswise into ½-inch thick slices. Halve the cobs. Combine all the ingredients (including the cobs) except the water, in a 5-quart heavy kettle. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally for 3 minutes. Stir in water and simmer until the squash is very tender, about 15 minutes. Remove and discard the cobs. Puree the mixture in batches until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Serve in bowls topped with sour cream and chopped cilantro.
Recipe: Adapted from the Capay Organic Farm CSA
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
⅔ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3½ teaspoons baking powder
1 large egg
1 cup whole milk
⅓ cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup honey
1 ear corn, kernels stripped (about ¾ cup)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray or lightly grease a 9-inch cake pan.
Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Lightly mix using a whisk or spoon.
Add the egg, milk, vegetable oil, vanilla extract and honey to the dry ingredients. Mix together until a thick batter forms. Add the corn and stir to blend. Pour the batter into the sprayed/greased pan.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
Recipe: executive chef Anthony Patton, Gray Ghost