Lend me your ears (of corn)!
LOCAVORE’S DELIGHT: The Series # 34. Follow us as we explore the bounty of our region’s farms.
The humble ear of sweet corn may be the most misunderstood vegetable in America. We hear a lot of talk about GMO (genetically modified organism) corn and food subsidies, which is more about field corn (the starchy, inedible cousin of sweet corn). Though sweet corn gets tarred with the same brush, remember not all corn is created equal. Sweet corn is what we nibble on all summer long; field corn is used to make high-fructose corn syrup, livestock feed, ethanol and other processed materials. About 90 percent of field corn is genetically modified, but at least 96 percent of sweet corn is not (according to Plate Magazine), which means we can rest easy my friends.
Corn is such a versatile vegetable. It can be steamed, grilled, roasted, smoked and fried, or eaten on the cob or off. It can be dried, made into hominy, ice cream, beer, and even moonshine. I love the corn cookie recipe in Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook, by Christina Tosi. We make a whole lot of corn relish (recipe below), because it is used to garnish our black bean cakes.
One of our favorite ways to enjoy corn is to make esquites (as we did at one of our Fullsteam Brewing beer schools). Esquites is a Mexican street food, and we prepare it in a similar way to Tex-Mex nachos. It’s an awesome dish for a party and it’s full of flavor.
- 8-12 corn tortillas
- ¼ cup of corn relish (recipe below)
- ¼ cup of homemade ricotta
- ¼ cup chopped green onions
- 2 tbsp creole mayonaise (recipe below)
- 2 tbsp cayenne pepper hot sauce (we like Valentina)
Recipe: Creole Mayonnaise
- 2 ¾ cup of mayonnaise
- 1 tbsp creole seasoning
- 1 tbsp Texas Pete hot sauce
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
Recipe: Corn Relish
- 2/3 pound corn kernels (canned or fresh cooked)
- ¼ cup diced jalapeno peppers
- ½ pound diced tomatoes
- ¼ cup diced red onions
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp minced garlic
- 2 tbsp canola oil
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
- ½ tsp ground cumin
Drain the corn well and add all of the ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Using a spoon, combine well. Makes 1 quart.
To Assemble the Esquites:
Add all of the ingredients to a large mixing bowl and whisk until the color is even and the ingredients are evenly distributed. Makes 2 ¾ cups.
Fry fresh corn tortillas until crispy or bake some already fried tortillas at 350 for just under five minutes. Break the tortillas into pieces (like chips) and place them on a large serving platter. Top them with corn relish, green onions, ricotta, creole mayonnaise, and cayenne pepper hot sauce.
Here are some other inventive uses for corn:
- Make a stock. Before you toss those corn cobs in the trash, consider making a stock with them. Cut corn from cobs and use in relish recipe. Place all cobs in a saucepan or stockpot, depending on how many you have. Cover with water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for one hour. Strain liquid and use in the next recipe.
- Drink it. We’ve been experimenting with a corn, coconut and bourbon cocktail: try this . . . 2 oz corn stock, 1 tbsp Coco Lopez, 4 leaves basil, 1.25 oz Buffalo Trace Bourbon – shake well with ice and double strain over ice in a rocks glass. Add three dashes of Fee Brothers Black Walnut bitters.
- Make succotash. A fantastic way to celebrate summer edging into autumn is by making boiled peanut succotash, with corn, squash and peanuts, which overlap down east for just a bit.
- Add it to your aioli. Vivian Howard, of Kinston’s Chef and the Farmer restaurant uses smoked corn aioli for her famous tomato sandwich. It made the cover of Garden and Gun Magazine, when John T. Edge included it in his list of “good eats” in 2012.
- Smoke it. Smoke whole ears to serve as a side dish, garnished with a miso aioli (miso and Duke’s mayo, mixed in a food processor) as we recently offered at the Mystery Brewing beer school.
- Eat the silk. Those silky strands can actually be fried and eaten, or dried and then crumbled to use as a breading. (I read this in Plate Magazine, but haven’t tried it yet).
- Think sweet. Corn can be used in sweet dishes as well. It can be steeped in cream and churned into sweet corn ice cream or crème bruleé.
Recipe: Ice Box Corn Pudding
Right now on our menu at both Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen restaurants we offer Ice Box Corn Pudding as a side. It’s sort of like making mac and cheese, but with corn instead of pasta, and rather than serving it hot, we serve it cold. It was a popular addition to our menu last year, so we decided to bring it back this summer. Here’s the recipe:
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- ¼ cup all purpose flour
- 2 tbsp chopped garlic
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 ½ cups whole milk
- ¼ tsp smoked paprika
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- 2 oz cream cheese
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
- ¼ cup shredded pepper jack
- 1 ½ pound corn kernels (off the cob)
- 2 small eggs, beaten
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat; stir in flour. Cook until a blonde roux is achieved and then stir in the garlic and sugar. When the sugar is dissolved, whisk in the milk. Simmer until the mixture is thickened (about 5 minutes). Add the spices and cream cheese; stir until melted. Remove from heat and add cheddar and pepper jack. When melted, stir in corn. Allow mixture to come to room temperature and then fold in the beaten eggs. Using a 3 ounce scoop, scoop the mixture into silicone muffin molds or prepared muffin pans. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes; sides should be bubbly and slightly browned. Remove and cool completely before serving. Makes 10 servings.
Some fun facts about corn:
- Each individual kernel is connected to one piece of silk. Every strand of silk needs to be pollinated for all of the kernels to grow to maturity.
- There are about 800 kernels in an ear of corn.
- Out of all the corn produced in the world, Americans consume one third of the sweet crop.
- One bushel of corn equals 56 pounds.
To learn more about corn, check out some of our favorite sources:
- Documentary: King Corn
- Book: Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen: Capturing the Vibrant Flavors of a World-Class Cuisine
- Article: “What’s Eating America,” by Michael Pollan
For more recipes, visit https://www.lucky32.com/recipes.htm
What’s your favorite way to enjoy corn?