Corn, also known as maize, has been an invaluable food throughout the history of this country.
Along with the bean, field (flint) corn saved the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The American South adopted it to the point of almost erasing wheat from their menus, and it became a mainstay in the settling of the Southwest, as it had been in Mexico and Central America.
In early cookbooks, corn is mentioned in the making of hominy, samp, breads, and puddings, but apart from clambakes, there is little record of eating corn on the cob. Occasionally the term “roasting ears” turns up, which indicates that perhaps corn was roasted in front of the fire in its husks.
The Iroquois gave the first recorded sweet corn to European settlers in 1779. Unlike field corn varieties, which are harvested when the kernels are dry and fully mature (dent stage), sweet corn is picked when immature (milk stage) and eaten as a vegetable, rather than a grain. Since the process of maturation involves converting sugar into starch, sweet corn stores poorly and must be eaten fresh, canned, or frozen before the kernels become tough and starchy.
Whenever possible, buy corn freshly picked from the farm and cook as soon as you can. The shorter the time from field to pot, the better the eating.
Never buy corn with coarse, dry kernels. To check, peel down the husk and silk at the top where you can also spot any worm damage. The corn should be well-filled and plump and the kernels milky when tested with the fingernail. The husks should look fresh and green.
Simple Corn on the Cob
Keep fresh corn refrigerated until you are ready to eat. Do not cook more than will be eaten at one time. It is better to cook corn in two or three batches and have it freshly done. Just before cooking, remove the husks and the silk. Then either:
Cook the corn, covered, in unsalted boiling water to cover for 3 to 5 minutes, or
Put the corn in cold water in a skillet or shallow pan. Place over medium-high heat and remove when the water reaches a rolling boil.
Serve at once with lots of sweet butter, freshly ground black pepper, and salt. Repeat endlessly.
Grilled corn, with its delicious caramelized smokiness, has many charms. Avoid charring, as this detracts from the corn flavor. Soak the husked ears in water or milk for half an hour before putting them on the grill. This gives them the full flavor of the grill. You might also try wrapping each husked ear in a slice of bacon. Wind the bacon around the ear, attach it with a toothpick, then grill the corn over a moderately hot fire for about 20 minutes. The bacon bastes the corn and serves as a partial anti-char barrier to the fire, but not enough to prevent the corn from picking up a rich, smoky taste.
Southwestern Baked Corn
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 Tbs. melted butter
2 peeled green chilies, finely chopped
2 cups finely chopped seeded tomatoes
1 Tbs. chili powder
1 tsp. salt
6 ears of corn
1 cup grated or shredded jack cheese
Sauté the onion in butter until just limp. Add the chilies and the tomatoes, and simmer 15 minutes. Add the seasonings. Cut the corn from the cobs, and scrape off all the milk and starch. Add to the tomato-onion mixture, pour into a 1½-quart greased baking dish, and bake about 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Ten minutes before it is done, add the jack cheese and allow it to melt and brown.
Acadian Fish Chowder
Makes 8 cups
¼ cup meaty salt pork, rind removed, chopped in ¼-inch pieces
1 medium onion, finely chopped
¾ lb. fresh or frozen cod, halibut, or haddock, cut in large pieces
5 cups whole milk
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut in ½-inch pieces
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
Place the chopped salt pork in a pot over low heat. Gently fry the pork until browned.
Add all of the remaining ingredients and cook at low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Fish will break into tender big chunks while cooking. If desired, adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper. Serve.
Sweet Corn, Tomato, and Cucumber Salad
This cool and refreshing salad has the consistency of a chunky salsa, but without the heat. Top-notch summer corn will supply plenty of sweetness without sugar. For a decorative touch, spoon the salad into a cup of tender lettuce, such as Boston.
6 large ears fresh corn
2 large ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped into ½-inch cubes
1 medium cucumber, chopped into ½-inch cubes
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
2 Tbs. fresh lemon or lime juice
2 Tbs. Basic Vinaigrette (below), or as needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 garlic clove, minced
1/8 tsp. fine sea salt
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. sherry vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard or ½ tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. pure maple syrup or honey
1 tsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
To make Basic Vinaigrette, add garlic, salt, oil, vinegar, mustard, maple syrup, parsley, and pepper to a salad bowl. Whisk until dressing is combined and thickened.
Place the corn in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover by 2 inches. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the corn is tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and cool the corn. Cut each ear in half. Stand each half ear on end, and cut off the kernels. You should have about 3 cups.
Combine the corn, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, parsley, and cilantro in a large bowl. Add the lemon juice and toss. Toss with the vinaigrette, using more if you like.
Season with the salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours or up to overnight. Serve chilled.
—The Cook’s Garden by Ellen Ecker Ogden
Mexican Corn Soup
Makes 6 servings
3½ cups fresh corn, cut and scraped from the cob (about 8-12 ears, depending on the size of the ears)
¾ cup water
¼ cup butter
2 cups milk
salt to taste
2 Tbs. canned mild green chilies, cut into cubes
1 cup cubed or shredded “melting” cheese, such as Monterey Jack, Muenster, or Fontina
Granulated sugar (optional)
Pan-fried tortilla squares
Use a knife or corn scraper to cut off the kernels. After cutting, scrape the cobs for the remaining “milk.” Place the kernels, “milk,” and water in the container of an electric blender. Blend briefly to break up the kernels, but do not overblend. Put the blended mixture through a fine sieve, pressing to extract as much liquid as possible. Pour the mixture into a saucepan and add the butter. Simmer slowly five minutes, stirring well because the corn tends to stick. Add the milk and salt to taste. Bring to a boil and add the green chilies.
When ready to serve, add the cheese and sugar (if desired), and when the cheese is melted and soup is piping hot, serve immediately in soup cups. Garnish each serving with the tortilla squares.
Pan-fried Tortilla Squares
Stack six or eight tortillas on a flat surface and use a sharp knife to cut them into cubes about half an inch square. Drop the cubes into hot oil and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until crisp and golden.
—Adapted from The New York Times International Cookbook by Craig Claiborne
Corn on the Cob with Cheese and Lime
These messy but irresistible ears of corn coated with cheese are a popular street snack in Mexico. Cotija is a crumbly, pungent, aged-curd cheese that can range in consistency from soft to very hard, depending on the brand. You can substitute feta, which is more widely available.
4 ears of corn in the husk
¼ cup mayonnaise or sour cream
1/8 teaspoon cayenne or chili powder, or to taste
¾ cup shredded cotija or feta
Accompaniment: lime wedges
Soak corn in husks in cold water 10 minutes. Drain corn and grill on a rack set 5 to 6 inches over glowing coals until husks are charred, about 10 minutes. Shuck corn and grill until kernels are browned in spots, about 10 minutes.
While corn is grilling, in a small bowl whisk together mayonnaise or sour cream and cayenne or chili powder. Use the small teardrop-shaped holes on a four-sided grater to grate cheese.
Brush the mixture onto hot corn and sprinkle with the cheese. Serve corn on the cob with lime wedges.
—Adapted from Gourmet, August 1999
Hot and Sweet Corn Relish
Makes 10 half pints, for 10 dear friends
This sweet-sour-spicy-peppery corn relish with its clash of flavors and textures all comes together beautifully. Corn relish shines as a flavor brightener when served with stews, grills, and soups. Use it as a dressing in sandwiches—and as a gift for special occasions!
2 tsp. finely chopped dried hot chipotle pepper (also known as dried, smoked jalapeño pepper)
corn kernels cut from 12 ears fresh corn (approximately 8 cups)
½ cup finely chopped green bell pepper
½ cup finely chopped red bell pepper
½ cup finely chopped yellow bell pepper
2 cups finely chopped red onion
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped cabbage
1½ Tbs. dry mustard
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 cups cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
10 half-pint canning jars
In a small bowl, soak the chipotle in enough hot water to cover. Let sit until softened, about 15 minutes. Drain.
In a large heavy nonmetallic Dutch oven or saucepan, combine the corn, sweet and hot peppers, onion, celery, and cabbage. Stir in the dry mustard, brown sugar, and vinegar. Add up to 1 Tbs. salt and several liberal grinds of black pepper. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat, cooking slowly, partially covered, for 1 hour, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender but still slightly crispy.
Wash 10 half-pint canning jars with hot soapy water, rinse well, and reserve in a pot of hot water. Prepare the canning lids according to manufacturer’s directions.
One by one, remove the jars from the pot. Pour the hot relish into the jars, filling to within ½ inch of the top. Wipe the rims clean, put on the tops, and screw on the bands. Transfer the jars to the refrigerator to cool. Keep refrigerated and use within a week.
—Adapted from Babe’s Country Cookbook
This recipe comes from the Middle West—the corn belt—and is made with fresh corn.
8 ears of corn
1½ cups milk
2 tsp. sugar
1 Tbs. melted butter
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
¼ tsp. Tabasco
6 slices bacon (optional)
Carefully cut the corn from the ears with a sharp knife, and scrape all the milk and sugar from the cob. Beat the eggs well and add the milk, sugar, butter, and seasonings. Combine with the corn and pour into a 1½-quart greased baking dish. Carefully lay the strips of bacon atop the corn pudding. Bake at 350 degrees 45 to 50 minutes, or until the pudding seems just firm to the touch.
Serves 6-8 as a side dish
This is a great creamed corn recipe. In addition to the cream, a wealth of Indian spices lends interest to the dish. It is subtly spiced and not very hot, so it can be served as an accompaniment to a range of dishes. It is great with grilled chicken and is rich so a little goes a long way.
½ tsp black cumin
¼ tsp. yellow mustard seed
¼ tsp. fenugreek
¼ tsp. coriander
3 Tbs. plain yogurt
¼ tsp. ground cardamom
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp. coarse salt
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 Tbs. minced fresh ginger
1 Tbs. minced garlic
1 cup finely chopped onion
4 cups heavy cream
1 cinnamon stick
4 cups fresh corn kernels (about 8 ears)
1 tsp. white pepper
Grind cumin seed, mustard seed, fenugreek, and coriander in a spice grinder until fine. Place yogurt in a small bowl and add 1½ tsp. of spice mixture plus the ground cardamom, cayenne pepper, and coarse salt. Whisk thoroughly.
Place oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Add ginger, garlic, and onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add cream and cinnamon stick and reduce by about half, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick. Add corn kernels and cook until just tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
Add yogurt mixture and stir well. Season with salt and white pepper, and serve immediately.
—Adapted from The Dean & DeLuca Cookbook