Corn has deep roots in American history. As one of the “three sisters” from Native American food lore, it’s long been a staple on our tables along with beans and squash.
Sure, we can find it year-round in supermarkets these days, but it’s the warm months ahead that yield the best crops bursting with sweet flavor.
With all its versatility – from grilling to sauteing and even popping – finding five ways to prepare it is a cinch. And after all, a quick dip in boiling water and a sprinkle of salt and pepper is often all it needs.
We settled, however, on choices to fit occasions – from potlucks to dessert tables – and provide geographic influence. We offer a Southern staple, a Caribbean-influenced grilled version and a sweet Mexican favorite. Give these a try:
• The Southerner: corn pudding
OK, so maybe we didn’t invent corn pudding in the South, but with its place at Sunday dinners and holiday tables, we’ve adopted it as our own. A rich version from iconic food writer and Southerner Craig Claiborne couldn’t taste more like home.
• The Pyro: grilled corn with Shadon Beni butter
Grill master Steven Raichlen, author of “The Barbecue Bible,” just updated for its 10th anniversary (2008, Workman, $22.95), takes a cue from Trinidad with his version of corn on the cob. Grilled until golden and slathered in spiced butter, Raichlen suggests a blend of garlic, onion and the Trinidadian herb called culantro that grows in many backyards on the island. Much like cilantro, the green leaf adds a subtle flavor.
• The Boozer: bourbon creamed corn
Bourbon makes it better. Seriously. Adding a layer of musky sweetness, this dish also has Southern influence. Creamed corn, which gets a quick saute in the pan, is sometimes referred to as “fried corn” in these parts.
• The Potlucker: bean and corn salad
With no mayonnaise in this salad to spoil the summer fun, healthy bean and corn salad travels well. Scooped up with tortilla chips or served alongside grilled meats, it keeps its cool in the summer heat.
• The Sweet Tooth: sweet corn ice cream
Corn in ice cream? Strange to the uninitiated, perhaps. But as anyone south of the border can attest, the sweet staple vegetable and cool treat are a natural fit.
One version is to boil it fresh in milk, then mix with a cream base.
BOURBON CREAMED CORN
one-fourth cup (one-half stick) butter
1 cup chopped shallots (about 4 large)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
3 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from about 5 medium ears)
two-thirds cup whipping cream, divided
one-fourth cup bourbon
1 and one-fourth cups chopped green onions (about 6), divided
Melt butter in large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots and garlic; saute 2 minutes. Add red bell pepper; saute 1 minute. Add corn; saute until almost tender, about 2 minutes. Add one-third cup cream and bourbon. Simmer until sauce thickly coats corn, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes.
Add remaining one-third cup cream and 1 cup green onions. Simmer until sauce thickens enough to coat corn thinly, about 2 minutes longer.
Season creamed corn to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl; sprinkle with remaining one-fourth cup green onions and serve. Makes 6 to 8 servings
5 ears corn, shucked
one-half cup heavy cream
2 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
one-half cup grated Cheddar cheese, optional
one-eighth teaspoon nutmeg
Salt to taste, if desired
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons diced mild or hot canned green chilies, optional
1 tablespoon butter
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Grate and scrape the corn kernels from the cobs. There should be about 2 and one-half cups. Put the corn pulp in a mixing bowl. Add the cream, egg yolks, whole eggs, cheese, nutmeg, salt, pepper and green chilies. Beat well.
Butter a baking dish with the butter (a 9-inch pie plate works well) and pour in the corn batter. Bake 25 minutes. Serve hot. Makes 6 servings.
SWEET CORN ICE CREAM
4 ears fresh corn, shucked
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
three-fourths cup sugar, divided
9 large egg yolks
Using a large knife, slice the kernels off the corn cobs and place in a large saucepan. Break the cobs into thirds and add them to the pot along with the milk, cream, and one-half cup of the sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring, then turn off the heat. Remove the cobs. Using an immersion mixer or a blender, puree the corn kernels. Let sit for 1 hour.
Bring the mixture back to a simmer, then turn off the heat. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks and remaining one-fourth cup of sugar. Add a cup of the hot cream to the yolks, stirring constantly so they don’t curdle. Add the yolk mixture to the saucepan, stirring. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spoon, about 10 minutes.
Pass the custard through a fine sieve, pressing down hard on the solids. Discard solids. Let the custard cool, then cover and chill for at least 4 hours. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Serve dusted with cinnamon. Makes one scant quart.
CORN AND BEAN SALAD
1 (15 and one-quarter-ounce) can corn, drained or 2 cups of fresh corn kernels (about 2-3 large ears)
two-thirds cup kidney beans, rinsed and drained
two-thirds cup garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
two-thirds cup black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
one-half red onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
one-half green bell pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice of one-half lime
2 teaspoons olive oil
one-half teaspoon salt, or salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
one-half teaspoon sugar
In a mixing bowl, combine corn, beans, onion, cilantro, peppers and garlic. Squeeze lime juice over salad and drizzle with olive oil. Toss and season with salt, pepper and sugar. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Makes 6 servings.
GRILLED CORN WITH SHADON BENI BUTTER
8 ears of corn
8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh culantro (sometimes available at Hispanic markets) or cilantro
2 scallions, both white and green parts, trimmed and minced
1 clove garlic, minced
Freshly ground pepper
Shuck the corn and set it aside while you prepare the shadon beni butter.
Place the butter, cilantro, scallions and garlic in a food processor and process until smooth. Season the butter with pepper to taste and transfer it to a bowl.
Alternatively, if the herbs and garlic are very finely minced, you can stir them right into the butter in a bowl.
Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high.
When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Arrange the corn on the hot grate and grill, turning with tongs, until nicely browned all over, 8 to 12 minutes. As the corn cooks, brush it occasionally with the shadon beni butter.
Remove the corn from the grill and brush it once more with the shadon beni butter. Serve it at once. Makes 8 servings.
Sources: Bon Appetit, September 2004; “Craig Claiborne’s Southern Cooking” (1987; reissued in 2008 by University of Georgia Press, $29.95); Claudia Fleming, Epicurious; Melody Searcy of Old Hickory, Tenn.; “The Barbecue Bible” by Steven Raichlen (2008, Workman, $22.95)