So far this summer I have eaten more corn on the cob than in any summer previous. I can’t really tell you why. I have not heard from growers that this has been the perfect growing season for corn or that the corn is for some reason creamier or richer than in previous summers. But nonetheless, meal in and meal out, it shows up coated in a shiny slick of butter and adorned with crispy salt.
While sweet corn is characteristically the darling of the summer evening meal, it shows best this time of year, right around Labor Day. The corn of the Fourth of July picnic is not from around here—the age old Midwestern adage “Knee High by the Fourth of July” is true and indicates that the ears won’t be ready for some time.
Then suddenly between festivals and beach days and visits and vacations, a couple of months fly by, children are heading back to school, and local corn is at its prime. This also happens to always be the exact time when I’m so tired of picking corn shells out of my teeth that I’m just about to turn away from corn to the early fall squashes. But then I remember what a farmer told me several years back, when I was buying the first cobs to grace her table in early August. She said, “Wait till September. That’s when the getting is good.”
To satisfy both desires, avoiding flossing while still getting to taste corn at its finest, I turn to the knife. Both of the recipes below remove the kernel from the cob and go from there.
The best way to do this is to shuck the husk and silk from the cob but leave the stem intact to use as a handle. Find a large bowl, sheet tray or roasting pan and place the tip of the cob in the receptacle. Holding the stem handle cut with a sharp knife down the cob removing the kernels into the bowl. A larger bowl/tray will keep the kernels from flying all over the kitchen. The cobs can either be discarded or steeped in milk or water to make a base for corn soup, pudding, or pasta sauce.
When shopping for corn the hallmarks of a good ear are compact layers of husk that are still bright green and not dried out; the silks should be attached and still looking fresh close to the cob; and the ear should be heavy in the hand. If you see a little hole at either end of the ear that is a sure sign of corn worm. While corn worms, like tomato hornworms, are very gross, they do not mean that the corn is bad. At worst they will have eaten a few kernels, but the flip side is that it probably means that corn wasn’t sprayed with insecticide. Similarly, if you peel back the husk and find several kernels undeveloped this is simply a sign of poor pollination and while it is disappointing doesn’t indicate anything else wrong with the rest of the ear.
This is also the time of year when I freeze as much corn as possible for the winter months. After cutting from the cob, lay the kernels out on sheet trays and freeze. When well frozen, then transfer to a freezer bag to use again in the winter. This will keep your corn from freezing as a lump, and you can use as much or as little without having to defrost the whole bag.
Fresh or frozen, late summer/ early fall is really the best time for sweet corn, so don’t miss it or rush to the novelty of squash, because those babies will be here well into the snow.
This play on a classic cream sauce tastes extra corny by extracting all of the flavor from the corn cobs while they steep in the half and half. You can use milk for a lighter option but the sauce has a tendency to break much more easily.
- 6 ears corn
- 2 C half and half
- ½ C parmesan, grated
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 1 pt cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- 1 bu Swiss chard, cut into ribbons
- ½ lb dried pasta, boiled to the packages instructions
- Cut the kernels from the cob and reserve the cob
- Bring the half and half to a scald
- Add the cobs and allow to steep for 20 min
- In a large frying pan heat a glug of oil and pan roast the corn with a good pinch of salt until golden brown
- Toss the roasted corn with the tomatoes and chard and set aside
- Remove the cobs from the dairy and then with the back of a knife scrap the cobs to extract any and all juice and starch left in the cob
- Discard the cobs
- Bring the dairy back to a simmer and add the cheese to thicken
- Toss the pasta with the cheese sauce and divide into serving plates or a platter
- Top with a hardy spoonful of the vegetables and serve immediately
Grilled corn slathered in crema and chili flakes is a quintessential piece of the Mexican street food culture. I live in Pilsen, known for its vibrant Mexican community, and so Elotes are a quintessential part of my snack culture. This is an adaptation of those flavors that works for a dinner party or picnic.
- 6 ears corn
- ¼ C sour cream or traditional crema
- ¼ C parmesan
- ¼ C safflower oil
- 2 T chili flakes
- 1 bu cilantro, chopped
- ¼ C breadcrumbs toasted
- Grill the corn until it has a good char and allow to cool
- Toast the chili flakes until fragrant and then remove from the heat and add the oil and allow to steep as it cools
- Roughly chop the cilantro
- When the corn is cool, cut it from the cob
- Toss the corn, parmesan, cilantro and breadcrumbs together to combine with 2 pinches of salt
- Taste and adjust seasoning as desired
- On a serving platter, pool the crema
- Top with the corn mixture and then drizzle with the chili oil
- Serve room temperature