An Ear for Corn


As the song goes, “I’m as corny as Kansas in August… .” And I proudly admit it. The end of the summer most assuredly sets my mind on certain culinary treats – and fresh corn is definitely one of them. Oh, there are bushels of it available throughout the summer, to be sure. However, this time of year offers the last chance to sample the local harvest and that makes it all the more sweet. So off I drive to suburban and yes, rural areas surrounding New York City in search of those golden kernels on the cob.

Sweet is the word I most often use when describing the glories of fresh corn. If it’s a good crop, and not too starchy, there’s a natural sweetness to the stuff that just can’t be described unless you’re lucky enough to taste it. And for me, preparation of fresh corn is a simple task. After husking and removing the silk, I throw it in boiling water for a few minutes and there you have it. Others put some milk in the water – even butter. It doesn’t hurt, but in my estimation it’s unnecessary. Boiled in plain water and served with a pat of creamery butter and a sprinkling of salt and I’m good for at least three ears in one sitting.

Now, that’s not to say that I don’t sometimes throw caution to the wind and set my ears of sweetness on the grill. When leaving the husks on, I soak them in water for a while so they don’t burn too quickly over the coals. If I’m placing the ears on the grill in the buff, I generously slather plenty of olive on them first. There’s something to be said for the caramelizing that occurs when those lovely kernels sport a nice char. If done correctly, it adds to the sweetness and intensifies the flavor.
(Look for the recipe in the upcoming book I Love Corn by Lisa Skye, published by Andrews McMeel; available next year.)

Now, for those of you who have read my articles before, you know that I’m not one to leave well enough alone. That’s to say, I dabble in plenty of corn cuisine. After all, when you take something really sweet and add it to your favorite recipes, the end result is, well, sweeter! Corn chowder is a good example of this. Phyllis Kirigin has offered her most excellent recipe below, and I strongly suggest you try it. It’s delicious.

The simplest way to incorporate fresh corn – boiled or grilled – into everyday fare is to add it to your salads. Bean salads, pasta salads, potato salads…even a tossed green salad. However, I particularly like to add corn to my crabmeat salad. Corn and crab are made for each other. Just take fresh lump crabmeat, corn, onion, celery, mayonnaise and a bit of hot sauce (to balance out the sweetness), gently combine and serve on a hot dog bun. Simple, but really satisfying. Even my crab cakes are set on a sauce of corn, which is basically home-made creamed corn that has been pureed and spiked with a kick of hot sauce. Again, simple but incredibly delicious.

Corn fritters are another favorite of mine. I take a basic fritter batter and add copious amounts of fresh corn and some chopped scallion as a counterfoil to the sweetness. Be sure to fry up plenty, because they move like hot cakes. The same happens when you add some fresh corn to your cornbread recipe. I like the texture of the kernels, as well as the burst of fresh flavor they impart to the bread. Add some chopped jalapenos if you’re feeling frisky.

By the way, I’m not averse to using canned or frozen corn in my recipes when I have to. It’s just that when the real thing is available, why not reach for the stars?

Oh, there’s no end to the corn cuisine you can create. You’ll find plenty of recipes online and in cookbooks. In fact, there’s a cookbook due to release called “I love Corn” by Lisa Skye. Keep an eye – and an ear – out for it.

Victor Ribaudo

End of Summer Corn Chowder
Sweet, fresh corn is at its peak at the farmers markets. Don’t miss this opportunity to create a creamy and flavorful corn chowder. 4 servings
1 T butter
1 oz. bacon (preferably a thick sliced chunk)
½ cup chopped carrot
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped onion
3 ears of corn
4 cups milk
1 Turkish bay leaf
1 medium Yukon Gold potato cut into a small dice
1 t salt
1/8 t freshly ground black pepper
½ t chopped fresh thyme
1 plum tomato, seeds and pulp removed, cut in a small dice
1/4 cup water mixed with 3 T masa harina or corn meal

1. Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add bacon. Fry about 4 minutes but don’t brown.
2. Add carrots, celery and onions.
3. Cut the kernels off the corn and put aside. Cut the cobs in half and add to saucepan.
4. Add milk and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer, cover pot and continue to cook at a bare simmer for 30 minutes. Be careful not to scald milk in the bottom of the saucepan.
5. Discard cobs, bacon and bay leaf.
7. Add potatoes, salt and pepper and simmer about 15 minutes until potatoes are tender.
8. Add corn kernels, thyme and tomato. If chowder needs thickening, stir in a slurry of masa harina and water.
9. Simmer 5 minutes and serve.

Photographer Bill Brady

Written by Victor Ribaudo

Recipe Provided by Phyllis Kirigin, aka sweetpaprika

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