Corn, On the Cob and Off

by Elizabeth Skipper | July 10th, 2013 | Ask the Chef

grilled cornFresh corn on the cob will be available locally very soon. I usually husk and boil it. However, is there another method that’s better?

Boiling is the best known and mostly commonly used way to cook corn on the cob. It works well, although it requires heating a large amount of water indoors during what’s usually the hottest summer weather. That drawback alone is enough to make one think of alternatives.

I’ve found that if you have a large enough skillet – and not a lot of corn to cook – you can cook it in much less water. In fact, the other night I did just that in a shallow skillet; the only change I needed to make was to turn the corn from time to time so all sides were cooked equally. It took less water, less time to heat the water, and kept the kitchen cooler than if I’d used a large pot.

Before I became concerned about the effects of microwaving on foods, I used one for cooking corn on the cob. It was easy and quick for one or two ears, but as I no longer recommend this method of cooking, I mention this only in passing.

If you already have the grill fired up, and enough room on the grill surface, that’s an easy and tasty way to proceed. Simply trim the ends to remove dry bits of husk and silk, soak for about ten minutes in cold water, and shake off excess water. Grill covered, turning every five minutes or so, for about 20-30 minutes. Sometimes it’s recommended to pull back the husks and remove the silk, then cover the corn with the husks again, but I find it’s not necessary. Once the corn is cooked, it’s easy to strip – just be careful not to burn yourself. If you grasp the stalk end with a potholder, you can remove the husks and silk together easily, just like peeling a banana.

Not enough room on the grill or it’s not grilling weather? Just lay whole ears of corn (dry bits of husk and excess silk trimmed) directly onto the rack of a 350° F oven. Half an hour later, remove the corn, husk it, and that’s it. Perfectly cooked corn on the cob – couldn’t be easier.

Good as it is, if you’re getting tired of corn on the cob, here are a couple of ideas for cooking it off the cob. Husk the ears and carefully remove as much as possible of the silk. When corn is raw, the silk is stickier and harder to remove, but do your best. If you can find someone to help, it will go faster. Then using a large sharp knife, cut off the tip of the ear and remove the stalk so the corn will sit flat on the cutting board. Remove about two rows of kernels at a time, slicing from the top of the ear down to the cutting board. Using the flat of the knife or a bench knife, scoop up the kernels and collect them in a bowl until all the corn is clean.

Proportions for this are entirely up to you, but here’s the basic idea. Chop an onion and sauté in a bit of bacon fat or lard in a large skillet. Add some chopped red and/or green bell pepper, a bit of chile pepper like a jalapeño or serrano if you like things spicy, the corn, and some chopped tomato. Can you tell this is a summer dish? All these veggies are at their best this time of year. Simmer together until cooked to your liking, but not too long. This isn’t a stew – it’s a sauté of fresh vegetables. Season to taste with salt, and when it comes off the stove, add some chopped cilantro if you like it (I do!) or parsley if you don’t. Basil’s also good.

Do you like creamed corn? Nothing’s easier. Homemade is also superior to the stuff in a can, which has water, sugar, and modified corn starch in it. Did you notice cream isn’t one of the ingredients? There are two ways to get that creamy texture. One, more time consuming, is to slice open the kernels while they’re on the cob, then scrape out the contents, leaving the capsule behind. As I’m not a fan of totally mushy textures, I do this with enough of the corn to make a sauce, and cook the results together with the remaining whole kernels. Simply simmer the pulp with the kernels in a skillet or large sauce pan, adding a bit of water if needed to loosen the mixture. Creamy texture with crunch – very good.

However, I like cream in my creamed corn – silly, perhaps, but there it is. So here’s how I do it. Melt some unsalted butter in a large skillet or pan. Add the corn kernels and stir to coat with the butter. Over low heat, cook the corn a few minutes. Then add a good pour of heavy cream, enough to just come up to the level of the corn. Raise the heat and cook until the cream reduces and forms a nice, thick sauce. That’s it, it doesn’t need another thing. No salt, no sugar, nothing else. It’s perfect.

And if you’re feeling really lazy? This may seem odd, but it’s excellent. Remove the husks and silk from the corn and eat it with no further ado. Fresh corn is sweet and absolutely delicious raw. Try it and let me know what you think.

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