Corn. Don't Hate It.
We talk passionately about vine-ripened tomatoes and the tender peaches whose juices run down our chins and arms. But what of corn? Especially when it's whole, intact on what we call the cob. Corn for the most part has come up in news and current events in the form of high fructose corn syrup, genetically modified crops for animal feed. Gourmet.com even weighed in, with transcripts from editors on whether or not corn is a bad thing.
For me, it's a no brainer. Corn on the cob is just as valuable to me as the heavy Brandywine, deep purple raspberries or juicy Suncrest peaches. I can't imagine a warm season without it. Along with my love of automotive self-autonomy, my love of corn is rather patriotic. Most of the world sees it as a grain to grind and transformed into delicious flatbreads or simply as fodder for swine and other animals. Speaking purely from a glutton's point of view, they're missing out. If anyone insists on debating corn's ethical place in the food chain, let's talk it over a grilled cob or two.
If there is such a thing as "too much of a good thing," it probably refers to monotony that corn can easily avoid. The trick: change up the slatherings. I love my butter. But there are other things that make the sweet kernels pop, too.
Is it or isn't it GMO? Is it organic? Is it local? Is the fact that you're consuming it hindering our progress toward clean energy?
Something so simple has become so bloody complicated. Not by our doing, the eaters. Rather the clever insertion of high fructose corn syrup (it's a four word bad word), corn bi-products in everything from honey roasted peanuts to beef, and so on. I find I can forgive myself the trasngression of an ear of corn when I find that it's a.) Summer, b.) the corn is local, and c.) the corn tastes awesome. I figure I'm eating it in the most unprocessed state, that's the best I can do without tripping over myself in this ethical food quagmire.
Before you dress the corn, you have to cook it. I consider all sorts of natural laws broken when corn is overcooked in a pot until it's a wan echo of its sweet self. If you're gonna boil it, make sure your pot is big, full of water that should be bubbling vigorously by the time you add the shucked (peeled) corn. I like a dash of kosher salt to the water as I would my pasta. Then continue to cook at 3 minutes. Maximum.
For those of us with microwaves and who aren't afraid to use them: Take shucked ears of corn and place them in a single layer (meaning no stacked pyraminds of cobs) and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Cook at high heat for 3 minutes. remove film carefully since loads of steam will escape.
The grill is one exception to the overcooking rule. I dig the caramelization of the corn's sugars from the direct heat. I've seen recipes where you grill the cob naked with the husks peeled away completely or pulled back like a ponytail. I've also seen recipe where the husks are lightly pulled aside to get rid of the corn silk. The latter will produce more steamed corn results and a need for asbestos hands to remove the hot casing. I prefer to grill, husk-free. Soak the shucked corn in water for about 10 to 15 minutes. Place directly onto a medium hot to hot grill and cook about 10 minutes, rotating as the kernels get more golden. Some might end up scorched. But that's okay.
Butter. I love it. Unsalted, softened, slathered onto a hot cob and sprinkled with coarse salt. Timeless.
Feta Mint Butter from a recent issue of Gourmet. Mix a softened stick of butter with 1/4 cup feta (that's a good chunk I break off in one go) pepper and some chopped fresh mint. This is what you would call a compound butter. It keeps well for up to two days. You can freeze this, too.
Creme Fraiche & Chili Sour cream works just as well. Some folks take it as far as mayo. Tread the creamy base as you see fit. I've got loads of creme fraiche, so I slather this onto a hot cob (instead of butter), sprinkle on some chili powder (as spicy as you want it) and squeeze with some fresh lime juice. If you can get your hands on some cotija cheese (Mexican markets and sometimes at supermarkets -- way too overpriced there) crumble it on top.
Harissa. I have a weakness for all things spicy. Harissa is an aromatic spice paste from Tunisia. There are some decent varieties by the tube, but they tend to taste better when beaten with some softened butter and salt and slathered onto corn.
Pesto & Pecorino. This affirms my belief that pesto is good on anything. Spread the good green stuff over a cobb and sprinkle with grated pecorino cheese. The aged sheep's milk provides a nice salty contrast for the sweet corn. If you can find a variety called "Fiore Sardo" made in Sardinia as the name implies, you're in for a treat.
Truffle butter. It's luxurious. It's over the top. And with a final sprinkling of coarse salt, it's pretty damned unbeatable. Got this idea from truffled popcorn. And like it's popped counterpart, it's ethereal with champagne.
Guacamole. A happy accident when I didn't have butter but had some leftover guacamole from a party. With an extra squeeze of lime juice, the creamy avocado, chili and cilantro do good things.
Or anything you can feasibly slather over corn on the cob. Herb butters you made and stashed in the freezer. Honey butter. Or a mixutre of the combinations above.
This time around for me: Creme fraiche, Greek feta, chili powder and fresh lime.