Summer’s bounty brings us an amazing array of fresh produce, like tomatoes, peas, beans, strawberries, peaches, cherries and countless fresh herbs, but there is no pleasure I crave more each year than sweet corn! Whether hot off the grill, out of boiling water following a quick blanch, or removed from the cob and sautéed with a good dose of butter, I cannot get enough sweet corn into my diet over the brief few month its at its best each summer. So get ready to grab a few cobs and start husking as we get ready to share a few of our favourite ways to enjoy this extraordinary summer treat!
While many historians debate the “discovery date” of corn – disputes continue today over whether Columbus brought corn back to Spain following his first visit to Cuba in 1492, or whether he brought it back to Europe following his second trip to the Americas. When one considers that corn pollen discovered geological digs beneath Mexico City confirm its existence more than 80,000 years ago and that 5,600 year old fossilized corn cobs have been dug up in Central America, it seems we can all agree that corn’s been around for a very long time.
By 1575, corn had made its way throughout most of western Europe and as far abroad as China, and over the past half-millennium has become one of the world’s most widely planted agricultural crops. This said, by 2000 less than 3% of all the corn grown in North America was eaten as such – the balance used as feed for livestock and in the production of various chemicals, dyes, pharmaceuticals, plastics and most recently as a fuel additive in the form of ethanol. Today corn also serves as an important “guinea pig” for various genetic, physiological and biochemical academic research and testing.
I’ll begin by confessing that my favourite dressing for amazing farm fresh sweet corn is both simple and sort of predictable – nothing but a healthy dose of butter. That said, there are plenty of delicious ways to add flavour beyond butter, like other fats and oils – sesame oil, pesto or brown butter all sound pretty tasty to me. You can also raise the flavour quotient through compound butters showcasing additions like basil, cilantro, lime juice, parmesan cheese, sriracha, harissa, fresh jalapeno peppers, beer or horseradish, to name just a few. Finally, a sprinkle or drizzle of sauces or seasonings like curry powder, hoisin, smoked paprika or soy sauce can add a wicked tasty array of international flavours to your next backyard cookout.
Sweeter than a Smiling Child
I realize that science doesn’t taste all that great, but there is one simple piece of corn chemistry you should keep in mind at all times – the longer corn cooks the less sweet it becomes. In fact, this same principle applies to freshness as well. From the moment a cob of corn is removed from the plant, its sugars begin converting to starches. At its perfect point of ripeness, a corn kernel contains a sugar-to-starch ratio of 80:20, and if you allow three days to go by after its harvested the sugar-to-starch ratio flips to 20:80. Applying heat to corn (whether boiling, steaming or grilling) accelerates the rate at which sugars disappear. So, armed with this knowledge, it is my recommendation to buy the freshest possible corn – and cook it as little as you have to. In my mind, the only goal of cooking corn is to get it hot enough to melt butter.
Tasty Cooking Tips
I love eating corn raw straight off the cob. I’ve done it since I was a kid, and I’m here to tell the story, so you needn’t worry about dropping dead from eating “under-cooked” corn. In my mind, fresh sweet corn is best served raw, but if you absolutely must cook it, here are a few guidelines. First, never add salt to a pot of water if you’re planning to boil your corn – all this does it toughen to corn, and really has no redeeming value that I’m aware of. Bring your water to a rolling boil, add the cobs to your pot and allow them to cook for 3-8 minutes.
When cooking corn on the BBQ, my preference is always to leave the husks on during the cooking process. This seems to help preserve a nice fresh crunchiness to the kernels. I’d recommend cooking corn on the BBQ over medium heat for about 25-35 minutes. Be sure to give the corn a good soak while the BBQ is pre-heating, or for at least 10 minutes before you put it on the grill. You’ll want to turn the corn periodically – maybe or quarter rotation 3-4 times, or once every 6-8 minutes. You can also cook corn with the husks on using your microwave quite easily – simply sit the cobs on a plate and cook for 3 1/2 minutes at full power. There is no need to pre-soak the corn if you’re using this method, but please be careful as you remove the husks once they come out of the microwave – they will be very hot.
[ Recipes ]
Mexican Street Corn: RECIPE
Wine Match: Falanghina or Garganega from Italy
Warm Corn, Tomato & Arugula Salad: RECIPE
Wine Match: Verdejo from Spain or Arrinto from Portugal
Sweet Corn Soup w/ Shiitake-Crab Croquettes: RECIPE
Wine Match: Semillon from Australia
Trout w/ Sweet Corn Sauce: RECIPE
Wine Match: Barrel Aged Chardonnay or Godello from Spain
Seared Chicken Tacos w/ Spicy Corn Salsa: RECIPE
Wine Match: Pinot Grigio or Gewurztraminer