At least once a summer a friend will call me with the discovery of a newer, better, easier way to cook corn. It involves a microwave and is guaranteed to remove all of the silk.
Last summer it was Steve, whose helpful hint was a wet paper towel. This week, Barbara called to explain the following method: You place an unhusked ear of corn in a microwave oven and cook for four minutes. You slice through the stem end, then slip the corn cob’s chemise and underpinnings off from the top/silk end. Voila! One ear of cooked corn. Congratulations. Now you can repeat this process 24 more times if you have a big ol’ passel of friends coming over for dinner.
Here are my problems with these methods. One, I do not have a microwave oven. Two, microwaved foods simply don’t retain heat, so by the time you’re done, you have some cooled off corn. Three, have you ever tried to cut through the stem end of an ear of corn? It’s not easy, and with the wrong knife, it can be treacherous.
To cook corn for a crowd, you may just have to go out on the back porch and shuck. No need to boil corn, you can steam it in a few inches of water, just stack the ears Lincoln log style and poke them around a few times while cooking. Cook for about five minutes and do not salt the water.
My latest favorite ways to cook corn are Mexican style on the grill and in Thai corn fritters (with corn cut off the cob). I have experimented with the Mexican corn recipe and have found that the more labor-intensive method is the best. That is, you need to peel back some of the husk, remove the silk, fold the husk back as best you can, soak in lightly salted water for 10 minutes, grill, then peel. The smell of the husks getting charred is heavenly, and this permeates the ears with wonderful flavor.
Alternatively, you can shuck the ears completely beforehand and then grill, but this won’t achieve that smoky flavor. You can also wrap each shucked ear in foil with the seasonings (butter, salt, smoked paprika, herbs, whatever) already applied to the corn.
As for the mayo-chipotle coating traditionally used on the grilled corn recipe, I have been experimenting with a lighter version, using a slathering of Greek yogurt mixed with the spices. The yogurt adds some tang that you would get with the squeeze of lime juice used at the end. However, it also wants to slide off the hot corn, being a bit watery . . . so this is a work in progress.
As I have already written quite a few previous columns about corn, its amazing history throughout many cultures, and have described the many types — dent, flint, pop, sweet, and so on — this week’s column is purely dedicated to recipes for sweet corn.
Here are my current favorites. And please remember, it is essential to get the freshest corn available, as the sugar starts turning to starch immediately after picking. Our local farm stands understand this; many of them pick the corn twice a day for maximum freshness, and they keep the delicate ears nicely protected under umbrellas and burlap to prevent drying out.