Oh, Me So Corny
If there’s one food product that we all have a love/hate relationship with, it’s corn. In the US, corn is our number one field crop, yet only one percent of that crop is eaten as straight corn. The rest of those billions of bushels are used as feed for crops or turned into everything from fuel to sweetener.
While some statistics when it comes to corn are scary (especially when it comes to GMO corn), others are not. For example, 95 percent of all corn farms in America are still small family-run farms, a fact I think is great. Corn itself is fascinating, too. Did you know that each ear of corn has on average 800 kernels in 16 rows? That’s a lot of kernels per pound, 1,300 to be exact.
Let’s forget corny facts for a moment and talk about how delicious corn is (just one more; one bushel of corn can sweeten more than 400 cans of soda!) when it is fresh off the cob. Debates have been raged at many a gathering on the time and method for perfect boiled sweet corn. Some people add salt or sugar to the water while others even boil it in milk. What I’ve always relied on is a large pot of boiling water with a sprinkle of salt. Throw in the shucked ears, return to a boil and let boil for no longer than five minutes.
But in addition to a boiled ear slathered in butter and salt, there are multitudes of ways to enjoy fresh sweet corn off the cob.
Don’t get this mixed up with canned or frozen corn; fresh summer corn chowder is lip-smacking delicious and the secret is in the stock. After shucking your fresh corn, trim the cobs of the kernels with a sharp knife. Save the cobs and throw them in your stock pot with water, salt, and a little onion. After simmering for an hour you will have created the sweetest, corniest stock you can imagine. You could puree the kernels and mix with the stock for a chilled sweet corn soup, or you could keep the kernels as is, adding wild mushrooms and keep the stock hot. Thicken with a little cream to make true chowder. Try this recipe for corn and clam chowder.
Corn loves pesto, tomatoes, onions, and cream — all ingredients that also work well with the mighty noodle. Mash corn with a mild cheese to make a ravioli filling, mix with fresh basil for corn pesto sauce, or go all out and create a creamy corn and crab risotto.
Because corn is grown everywhere except for Antarctica, it shows up in almost every type of cuisine. New Englanders and some parts of the South have succotash, a mixture of corn and beans — and a totally different taste when prepared in the summer from fresh ingredients. Try this recipe for succotash with fresh shell beans, maple bacon, and garlic croutons. Serve as a main course, or as a side dish with anything grilled.
Corn Sauce and Salsa
Move further south to Mexico and South America for pupusas and huaraches, which are corn-based cakes always made better when topped with a spicy corn salsa. Mix fresh corn with diced tomato, jalapeno, bell pepper, cilantro, chile, onion, and a squeeze of lime for a bright and crunchy sauce. And did you know that even people in Hong Kong love creamed corn? Sometimes called Manok sa Mais, it is a comforting dish of seared chicken with a creamed corn sauce, made better with fresh sweet corn and spicy peppers.
It may not be your first instinct, but corn and dessert can be friends. Try this caramel-sweet corn ice cream, or top this toothy classic corn pudding with a dollop of whipped cream. If you prefer to drink your dessert, try your hand at making el atol de elote, a thick corn, milk and cinnamon drink from El Salvador.
While it’s too late to grow your own; if you’ve already got a source for fresh corn still on the stalk, it’s relatively easy to dry and store for your very own popping corn. Learn how here. You can also do a germination test with your commercially bought dried corn — just plant a few kernels in about four inches of dirt, water, and wait. If you see green popping through the dirt in a week, the seeds are viable. If not, check with local growers for seeds in the fall to be ready for your own fresh corn next summer.
Ever heard of Huitlacoche? Also known as corn smut, this Mexican delicacy is love it or leave it — and actually might be good for you.
Don’t forget about fresh corn tortilla soup. You’ll never want it in the winter again after tasting this recipe.
If you can’t get past corn on the cob, check out all these darling cob holders — keep that butter off yo’ fingers!