Chef Kelly Unger
Corn plays so well with others.
Corn season is here, rejoice! I love fresh corn so much. It's simple, yet bold, plays well with others and is so very versatile. As with any of my favorite fruits or vegetables, when they arrive for the season, I first eat them with reckless abandon in their simplest form. For corn, that means on the cob, either boiled or grilled, with butter and salt. After that, I'm ready to play around with flavorings and companions.
When I boil my corn on the cob, I like to save most of the water, after all, there's some nice corn flavor in there and I can use that to add to soups, broth, sauces, etc. I put it in a large Ball jar. You know how I love Ball jars. You should see my refrigerator, especially this time of year. I am a living advertisement for Ball jars.
When I grill my corn, there are two ways I do it, and each way is determined by my flavor mood at the moment. The first way is to microwave the corn in its husk, for about a minute and a half for each ear, then pull the husk back (and twist or tie it into a nice handle) and place it on a very hot grill for about another 3 minutes or so, until I just get some grill marks in all sides. That's a Avery active, involved way. It cooks the corn fully to a lovely softness, then adds the roastyness of the grill for well rounded flavor. The second way is to completely cook it on the grill in its husk. I remove one layer of the outer husk and wrap the corn in a wet paper towel while the grill heats up, to make sure the husks stay moist. Then I grill on a medium heat until the corn is cooked, which is usually about 10 minutes, or longer if you want some char.
It's fun to play with different flavor profiles with your corn on the cob: go for the Mexican Street Corn flavor of crema, lime, chili powder and cotija cheese, or freshly chopped basil infused butter, hot chilis, a topping of parmesan cheese, or any of your favorite spice blends added to your butter. Sometimes just butter, salt and a squeeze of lime is enough. Oh, so many delicious ways!
Another favorite way is to cut the corn off the cob and saute the corn in butter and olive oil, then add any other flavor that I'm in the mood for. Sometimes it's with hot chilis or peppers and onions, sometimes zucchini. And I always save the cobs for broth or soups. I usually have too many cobs for immediate use, so I freeze cobs too for later in the season. They still have so much flavor to give.
I also like to quick freeze a couple dozen ears for Thanksgiving and beyond. I cut the kernels off the cob, lay them out in a single layer on a parchment line baking sheet. I put them in the freezer for an hour, then transfer them to a zip lock freezer bag for long storage. Oh how I love opening that bag on Thanksgiving day.
Corn chowder is another corn season favorite of mine. Sauted bacon and onions with potatoes, sometimes a red bell pepper, good corn broth (made from corn boiling water, a vegetable bouillon cube and the cobs of the corn I am using for the soup) and the cream of my choice (half and half, whole milk, coconut milk or a blend of all).
Corn plays well with everyone of its vegetable and fruit friends and is so versatile. It goes from soup to soufflé, dip, side dish, ice cream, cookie, muffin, bread, cake, custard, salsa and savory pie effortlessly. But I think corn particularly likes being paired with: onion, beans, peppers, potatoes, blackberries, pecans, peaches, lime, creamy stuff, basil, tomatoes, beef, parmesan and cotija cheese. This week I'm sharing a link to Bon Appetite's 41 Corn Recipes Cornier Than Your Dad's Jokes . There's something in there for everyone's taste, but I call your attention to the No-Brainer Corn Salad - with jalapeño, cheese and cilantro, it's asy and fresh, perfect for a hot day and a Fourth of July picnic. Luckily corn will be with us for a good long while, and I couldn't be happier. Eat! Eat!