Vanessa Chang
(A Glutton with Brains)


a glutton with brains

Thinking Ahead: Freezing Corn


Ambition for me doesn't come in waves. It comes by the caseful. Sometimes by the dozen. The goal is simple: Buy fresh and local now, eat and enjoy and manage to save some for later. Like the worker ant in Aesop's fable or the financial manager my mother would like me to be, I try to plan ahead.

The problem is, it doesn't always work. It starts with the market lust/anxiety then peaks and dips like a Pixi Stix binge. By Monday, I look over the lists, the dreams of Saturday, and begin the realistic reconciliation between ambitious dreams and the client deadlines and the neverending to-do list.

As much as I love food and cooking, my relationship with the kitchen is a tenuous one if only because I've managed to give myself hell for spending time away from my desk and rather in the kitchen. But like that workout you bitch and moan about, once you get started, you ask yourself why you didn't bloody just do it in the first place.


This is where corn comes in. Actually, it came in after the cherries and just as "America's Next Top Model" marathon was winding down. I could never eat a dozen ears of corn, even if I fed the Voracious One. So, it made sense to pay the farmer for the whole lot, enjoy and eat some now and save some for later. Sound familiar?

With corn, it's a relatively painless process. It's a different type of messy than the slicing and pitting of fresh cherries. You need a knife, a cutting board, a storage container of some sort and a sense of humor because in all my years of de-kerneling corn, I've never put on an elegant or particularly impressive show. There's always the temptation of getting a gadget to do it for me, something informercial worthy that makes life suddenly liveable because, you know, I just can't handle those pesky knives! [Insert image of shaking fist HERE.] But I harbor a secret, vitriolic disdain for one-purpose gadgets. I am supremely bitchy about the clutter and lack of versatility, no matter how phenomenal a shnazzy de-kerneling device might be. Call me old fashioned. Well, no,  just call me bitchy and stubborn.

And I like to play with knives. So blade and cutting board it is. This is where dogs come in handy to lick up the errant kernels that are bound to bounce off the cutting board like the densest of peas onto the ground. They're willing participants, I assure you.


THE METHOD: Dogs or not, proceed. Take one ear of corn, husked and as much of the silk you can remove. If you can't get it all, don't worry, it's not the end of the world. You can do a once-over with your fingers and OCD tendencies once the kernels are free from the cob. Or teach your boyfriend that the corn chowder IS supposed to be somewhat hairy.

Stand the corn tip to bottom at a slight angle -- enough so that you feel it stable on the cutting board. Then take a sharp knife (I prefer the shorter blades, since as you cut the kernels off and they release their juices, they tend to stick and hitchhike onto longer blades. Next stop: The floor) and start from the middle. I know the instinct is to start from the top. But when I do, I don't so much cut kernels as flint corn confetti. They tumble and bounce with extra force thanks to the extra height and the acceleration they achieve as they fall within it. See, I paid attention in physics.

The cutting motion is a sawing back and forth move, not one judo chop down the cob. Don't be afraid to make blade contact with the hard cob. I like to get as much of the kernel off. By now you should have a cob with a portion bald of kernels. Half of those kernels will hopefully be on your cutting board, 1/4 on the counter and the 1/4 entertaining your loyal dogs.

Rotate the corn cob and repeat. You're never going to get a perfect circle; envision your cuts down the cob outlining a hexagon or pentagon. There will be half kernels. Live with it. They taste the same and your name isn't Bird's Eye.

When you've got the lower half cut, turn it over and steady it and begin cutting your way through the rest of the corn, sawing back and forth, forgiving yourself for the mess. In all likelihood your dogs are pretty stoked and love you that much more.

As you go, place the kernels straight into a container. I like Ziploc Freezerbags (it's an addiciton, I know), but anything works. Unlike the cherries which you have to freeze first in a single layer on a cookie sheet before storing it away in a container, the corn requires no neat, pre-freeze. Once you're done, adjust the bag to even out the kernels and place in the freezer.

As to its shelf life, my personal belief has been that the colder the shelf, the longer the life of said food. Last I checked, it's pretty damn cold in the freezer. One February, I did a happy dance (winter is a time for small miracles) when I discovered a lost bag of summer corn somewhere in the recesses of my poorly organized freezer. Organization is relative, but when I read that Jim Harrison keeps a list/inventory of his well-stocked cold larder, I can't help but to think my collection is a bit slapdash. 

Still, it worked. With a bit of inspiration from Laurie Colwin and her recipe for a lima bean and corn succotash, that elusive thing of simple, seasonal could be rather spontaneous in the dead of winter.