Recipe-phile: On a mission to eat more corn
I feel like I'm getting close to eating my fill of sweet corn, but I am glad that local corn will be available for a bit longer. According to one of the Pikes, they will be picking for another week. (And for those of you who like to freeze corn, they're reducing the price if you buy three or more dozen ears at once.)
So for now, my mission is to eat more corn, and by that I mean more corn on the cob. Because just as I think that a T-bone steak tastes better than a boneless sirloin strip, corn on the cob tastes better than corn cut off the cob. Any time that something commingles with its casement, whether cob or bone or skin, it gains flavor, and corn is no exception. Boiled corn on the cob needs nothing more than a tip of the salt-shaker and a generous hand with the butter--but after you've nailed that a half dozen times, what's next? Before corn boredom sets in, I start making Mexican street corn, one of the world's greatest side dishes.
After grilling the corn in its husks until it tastes smoky and chars a bit in spots, you pull the husks back to the stem and wrap a napkin around the whole thing, basically making a handle. (After all it is, street corn, which suggests eating and rambling.) You rub it with a creamy mayonnaise, sprinkle it with crumbled aged Mexican cheese (or feta, if you're far from a Latin market, as we are), sprinkle it with your favorite chili powder and squirt it with a wedge of lime. A single bite contains sweet corn, cheese, lime and a kick of spice; it never fails to strike me as a harmonic convergence of flavors.
A little advice: Don't try to make these ahead and pile them onto a serving platter, or the corn will get all mussed up. If you're serving it for a party - and do, it will be a hit - it's best when you make them to order and hand them out one by one. I usually try to run a Mexican corn production line either before or after dinner has been served. That way people can eat it with two hands and give it the undivided attention it deserves.
And when you're sick of that, there's another way to get huge corn flavor - this time without eating in rows. Make a simple corn soup, but spike it with a rich corn stock made from the cobs. Not only does this soup have dramatic corn taste it's also vegetarian, and if you wanted to omit the cream, even vegan. Of course the maple bacon served alongside it - divine bacon candy, a dangerous thing to have around - defeats the meatless-ness. Maple-lacquered bacon, when made with good quality bacon, is the stuff that vegan nightmares (or, dare I say ... dreams) are made of.
Mexican street corn
12 ears of corn
8 ounces Queso anejo or queso cotija (can substitute feta cheese)
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup mayonnaise
chili powder, preferably chipotle, although a mixture of paprika and cayenne will do
2 limes, cut into eighths
Mix together the sour cream and mayonnaise. Finely crumble the cheese into a rectangular casserole dish.
You can shuck the corn and grill it directly, but I like to grill it with the husks on. It's a little more work, but I think that the kernels stay moister: Peel the husks back, one by one, and remove the silk. Fold the husks back around the cob. Grill the corn over high heat until the husks are charred and the kernels look cooked and are even blackened in spots. Peel the husks back and wrap them around the stem. Wrap a napkin around all of it, making a handle.
Brush the corn with the cream/mayonnaise mixture. Hold the corn over the casserole of cheese and sprinkle cheese onto the corn, rotating the cob, until most of the corn has some cheese attached to it. Sprinkle with chili powder, squirt with lime and serve immediately.
Fresh Corn Soup with Maple Bacon
One dozen ears corn, shucked
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 large sweet onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon salt + to taste
3 sprigs thyme
1/2 cup cream
20 turns freshly ground black pepper
6 cups corn stock
6 slices good-quality thick-cut bacon
1/4 cup maple syrup
Cut the kernels off the cob and reserve the kernels and cobs separately. Break the cobs in half and cover them with cold water and season with salt to taste. Heat to a gentle boil and cook for one hour, or until it has strong corn flavor. Strain and reserve.
Heat a large stock pot to medium and add the onion and the butter. Season with salt and pepper and cook until very soft but light-colored. Add the minced garlic and cook another minute. Add the corn and thyme and season with the rest of the salt and pepper and cook until the starch comes out of the corn, about 5 minutes.
Add enough corn stock to cover the corn by two inches, and the cream, and cook for another 20 minutes. Process in a blender until finely pureed and push through a fine mesh sieve.
To make the bacon, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Dip the bacon slices in the maple syrup and bake on a (preferably silicone pad- or parchment paper-lined) baking sheet until cooked through and lightly crisp. Reserve.
To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and some freshly ground black pepper and lay a slice of maple bacon across the bowl.
A foolproof way to boil sweet corn, and you can make it ahead.
One dozen ears corn
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons sugar
salt and pepper and butter to taste
Shuck the corn and put it in a large stockpot. Add water until it just covers the corn and then add the milk and the sugar. Bring the liquid to a boil, and immediately turn off the heat. Let sit for five minutes, and as long as 30 minutes. Remove the corn to a platter and serve immediately. Diners season their own corn with salt, pepper and butter.