You know it’s August when the corn is in. As a teacher and a writer, I like to take this opportunity to remind people that shucking the corn at the market is not necessary. I know there are events (such as annual corn shucking competitions), but that’s a whole other entity.
If you are a regular reader of this column, feel free to skim on down. If not, please take note: pre-shucking corn, even if it’s just the first couple of inches on the cob, is not helpful. The longer that corn on the cob is exposed to the air, the more sugar it loses. If you are looking for worms or deformed kernels, just purchase a few extra ears—please?
Remember that fresh corn starts converting sweet-tasting sugars to starches immediately after it is picked. Ideally, you want to buy it, cook it, and eat it the same day it is picked—or as close to that as possible. Sweet corn has an 80:20 sugar/starch ratio, but within a couple of days, that ration may change to 20:80.
When you’re picking out your corn, pick up each ear and look for those that are full and heavy. Look at the silk on top, and make sure there’s lots of it, that it’s golden pale, and slightly sticky. Make extra sure that the corn you buy has been in the shade, not the sun, as heat will speed up that conversion of sugar to starch.
Check out the bottom of the ear where it has been broken off the stalk. If it is already brown, it is most likely two (or more) days old. If you are not going to cook and eat your corn on the day you buy it, store it in the refrigerator with the husks on. Cooling helps slow down that sugar-starch transformation.
I know that some markets provide large trash barrels next to their displays of corn. I have spoken with produce managers (ad nauseum) about this and they say they do it because otherwise people will just leave piles of corn husks on the floor. Enjoy this wonderful seasonal bounty while we have it, fresh and recently picked. But please do take it home in the husks, without peeling off the tops to expose the kernels to air.
That said, I can move on to some fabulous recipes. There is truly nothing like freshly shucked corn. Mark Bittman says that his recipe for creamed corn may make you “pass out with pleasure.” His instructions are simple, and are a good starting point. The cornstarch is optional—the starch in the corn will thicken the mixture, but sometimes I like to use just a little to make it very creamy.
Mark Bittman’s Creamed Corn
6 ears fresh corn
3 TBSP butter
1-½ to 2 cups cream or half-and-half
1 TBSP cornstarch (optional)
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish
Shuck the corn and strip the kernels from it into a bowl to save the liquid; put the butter in a skillet or broad saucepan over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the corn and cook, stirring, for a minute or two. Add one and a half cups cream and bring to a gentle simmer; add a good pinch of salt, some pepper, and a pinch of cayenne if you like. Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the corn is tender. Taste and add a little sugar if you like; continue to cook until the mixture is thick, another few minutes, adding a little more cream if necessary. If you’d like it thicker, combine the cornstarch with a tablespoon of cold water and stir it into the corn; the mixture will thicken almost immediately. Taste and adjust the seasoning, garnish with parsley, and serve.
He also suggests the following addition, which, after your first two or three times of making the basic recipe, you might enjoy trying.
Creamed Corn With Onion
Before adding the corn to the butter, cook about ½ cup chopped onion, stirring frequently, until quite tender but not browned, about 10 minutes.
Corn With Cheese
Instead of cornstarch, thicken with about a cup of grated semi-hard cheese, like cheddar or jarlsberg. If you like, finish this with a sprinkling of Parmesan and run under the broiler for a minute or two.
Creamed Corn With Pesto
Stir in 3 tablespoons pesto just before serving.
Creamed Corn With Clams
At the beginning, when you add the corn, stir in a pound or so of well-scrubbed clams in the shell. Cover the pan and cook as directed, until the clams open and the corn gets tender, about 10 minutes; then proceed with the recipe.
A few weeks ago I talked about cooking corn in the microwave. I wish my mother were still alive, as she got such delight out of wrapping her corn in wax paper, then microwaving it. My new technique is even easier—she would love it: just place two ears in the microwave and cook them on high for 4 minutes. Remove it carefully (it’s HOT) and cut off the stem, then peel off the husk and silk. They come off easily and you have perfectly cooked corn without the bother of boiling water on the stove.
I adapted that technique to cooking for just a minute and a half, then letting the corn sit until it’s cool. Proceed with peeling, then cut the corn off the cob with a sharp knife. From there you can cook it (as for creamed corn, above) or in any of the following recipes. This tabbouleh gets better over time, so make it the day before and chill it before serving it the next day.
Summer Corn And Nectarine Tabbouleh
1 cup bulgur wheat
2 ears fresh corn, cooked, kernels removed
2 ripe nectarines pitted and cubed
½ cup each: diced red onion and diced English cucumber
3 scallions finely chopped
½ cup chopped cilantro or basil
¼ cup chopped mint
1 large lemon juiced
2 cloves garlic minced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Prepare the bulgur by placing it in a large bowl and covering with boiling water; let it stand for 30-45 minutes or until the bulgur has puffed up. Strain the bulgur well and place it back in the bowl. As the bulgur rests, chop the remaining ingredients. Once the bulgur is ready, add the corn, nectarines, red onion, cucumber, scallions, cilantro or basil, and mint and stir well. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper (about a teaspoon each), to taste. Add the dressing to the salad and stir until evenly coated; adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary. Keep in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator until ready to serve; it should chill for at least 30 minutes—24 hours is ideal.
Corn and pasta go well together. Melissa Clark developed this recipe for the New York Times, and I adapted it to go with some grilled pork chops. I used green (spinach) pasta, but I think it would look better with regular bow-ties. Orchiette or cavatappi pasta would also be good—you want some curls to pick up some of the pieces of corn.
Creamy Corn Pasta With Basil
12 oz dry pasta
4 TBSP unsalted butter, divided
1 bunch scallions (about 8), trimmed and thinly sliced (whites and light green parts only)
2 large ears corn, shucked and kernels removed (2 cups kernels)
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, more to taste
1⁄3 cup torn basil or mint, more for garnish
pinch red pepper flakes, or to taste
Fresh lemon juice, as needed
Dark green scallion tops, chopped, for garnish
Bring a large pot of well-salted (1 tablespoon at least) water to a boil; cook pasta until 1 minute shy of al dente, according to the package directions. Drain, reserving at least one cup (or more) of pasta water.
Meanwhile, heat 1 TBSP of the butter in large sauté pan over medium heat; add scallions and a pinch of salt and cook until soft, 3 minutes. Add ¼ cup reserved pasta cooking liquid—dip a measuring cup into the pot if the pasta is still boiling—and all but ¼ cup corn; simmer until corn is heated through and almost tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, transfer to a blender (or food processor), and purée mixture until smooth, adding a little extra cooking water if needed to get a thick but pourable texture.
Heat the same skillet over high heat; add remaining butter and let melt. Add reserved ¼ corn and cook until tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the corn purée and cook for 30 seconds to heat and combine the flavors; reduce heat to medium. Add pasta and ¼ cup of the reserved pasta cooking water, tossing to coat. Cook for 1 minute, then add a little more of the pasta cooking water if the mixture seems too thick; stir in the Parmesan, the herbs, the red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice (I typically use the juice from a whole lemon) to taste. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Transfer pasta to bowls and crack black pepper over top; garnish with the dark green tops of the scallions, if desired.