I was enjoying one of the first ears of local corn last night when a childhood memory came back to me. It’s the mid-1960s: I’m sitting with my brothers, Michael and Lee, at the round, avocado-green Formica dinner table in our kitchen and we’re about to launch a summer game. The goal? To see who can leave one perfect row of corn on the cob and demolish all the rest. My father is the judge and he reminds us that the cob needs to be completely clean except for the one remaining, perfectly straight, row. We nibble slowly, carefully, and competitively. We use our teeth to dig into the cob to clean it up as much as possible. Someone slips and accidentally takes off one kernel from the row. Hysteria ensues. And when it’s time for the judging my father, a smart man, talks about the merits of each of our ears of corn as if they were sculptures.
“There’s no clear winner. They all look very clean, very neat. You all did a great job!”
“No fair,” we grumble in unison. “Mine’s the best.”
Corn equals summer. At the height of summer, I, for one, can’t get enough of it. I use fresh corn to make breakfast fritters topped with maple syrup and butter. I make savory fritters with herbs and herb butter. I make soups and chowders. I bake muffins and cakes. I top a tomato tart with freshly shucked kernels of corn off the cob. There are salads to be made and relishes and chutneys. Corn knows no bounds.
This summer I created several new recipes. The first: corn, chicken and ginger stir fry. It’s quick, easy, and a thoroughly satisfying weeknight dinner with a pot of white or brown rice. The second dish is a Mexican-inspired soup that’s full of poblano chili peppers, onions, and lots of fresh corn. It’s like a cross between a Mexican Sopa de Elote and a New England corn chowder. And there’s also a quick recipe for making a sweet corn stock from the leftover cobs. (It makes an excellent base for any vegetable or bean soup.) And finally, a savory muffin made from cornmeal, fresh corn, and a load of fresh summer herbs and chopped scallions.
When shopping, always look for corn from a local farmer, farmer’s market or a trusted grocery store that sells only local corn stocked daily. Corn that sits around, or has been flown across the country is just … wrong. It dries up and turns to starch. There will be no taste of sweetness. Shop for corn that has a bright green husk. The silk, also called tassels, on top of the corn should be yellow, gold or brown; avoid black tassels as they indicate the corn is old. Don’t shuck the corn at the market; it will begin to dry out the minute you shuck it. Shuck at home just before you’re ready to cook the corn or cut the kernels off. And never pull back the husk at the store to peek at the kernels. This ruins the corn for the next person. Feel the corn; it should have some weight and feel firm. And remember, don’t throw out the husks after you’ve eaten corn on the cob or shaved off the kernels. The cobs make delicious sweet stock–recipe below.
Mexican-style corn soup
In July, the revered cookbook author and Mexican food authority Diana Kennedy passed away. Her cookbooks taught Americans about the regional cuisine of Mexico and enlightened us about the beauty of indigenous ingredients and traditions. In her seminal book, “The Cuisines of Mexico,” I found a recipe for sopa de elote (fresh corn soup) that intrigued me. This is my take on a corn soup; it’s like a cross between a New England chowder and a Mexican-inspired corn soup. Onions, oregano, and chopped poblano peppers are sauteed and then potatoes and fresh corn kernels are added. I then add a light corn stock (recipe below) or water, milk, and cream and simmer until the potatoes are tender. Half the soup is pureed giving it a thick, creamy texture. It’s served hot or cold topped with sauteed corn kernels, cilantro, crumbled cotija or feta cheese and lime wedges.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups finely chopped onion and/or leeks
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 ½ teaspoon dried Mexican or regular oregano, or 1 tablespoon fresh chopped
- 1 large poblano pepper or 2 small, cored, deseeded and finely chopped into ½ inch size pieces
- 1 pound potatoes, 2 large peeled and chopped into ½-inch size pieces
- 6 cups fresh corn kernels, cut from 6 to 7 large ears fresh corn
- 4 cups corn stock, vegetable stock or chicken stock or water, see corn stock recipe below
- 2 ½ cups milk
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, plus whole leaves for garnish
- ⅓ cup crumbled cotija or feta cheese
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
- Make the soup: In a large pot melt the butter over low heat. Add the onions or leeks, salt, pepper, and half of the oregano. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the chopped poblano pepper and cook for another 4 minutes. Stir in the potatoes and cook, stirring, another 4 minutes. Stir 5 cups of the corn, reserving the remaining cup of corn, and the remaining oregano and cook for 1 minute. Raise the heat to high and add the stock or water and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are just tender. Add the milk and cream and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Remove 4 cups of the soup to a blender or food processor and blend until almost smooth. Add the pureed soup back to the pot and taste for seasoning. Heat for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the garnish: in a small skillet, heat the butter over high heat until sizzling and almost brown. Add the remaining cup of corn, salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of cilantro and cook for 1 minute, stirring until hot. Serve the soup hot, serve with the lime wedges on the side.
Double corn, scallion and herb muffins
Think of a savory herb-filled cornbread in muffin tins and you’ll understand the appeal of these muffins. Made in one bowl, a simple mixture of cornmeal, flour, eggs, and butter are mixed with fresh corn kernels, chopped scallions, and herbs –like thyme, parsley, chives and basil. The muffins cook up in around 20 minutes and are every bit as good for breakfast as they are served with BBQ, grilled meats or fish, or a simple summer salad.
Makes 12 muffins.
- Butter or oil for coating the muffin tins
- 1 stick salted butter
- 1 ½ cups corn kernels, cut from 3 large cobs
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh herbs, like parsley, chives, basil, thyme
- ¼ cup finely chopped scallions, white and green sections
- 2 eggs
- 1 ½ cups milk
- 2 cups cornmeal, 240 grams
- 1 cup flour, 120 grams
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 ½ tablespoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- 2 to 3 tablespoons room temperature butter for serving
- Lightly butter or oil the bottom and sides of 12 muffin tins.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat until sizzling and almost turning golden brown. Remove and cool.
- In a large bowl whisk together the corn kernels, melted butter, herbs, scallions, eggs, and milk. Add the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt and mix until mostly smooth; the batter will appear chunky.
- Using a ⅓ measuring cup, scoop the batter evenly into the 12 muffin tins. Place on the middle shelf and bake for around 30 minutes, or until risen, golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the muffin tray on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Use the flat kitchen knife to work your way around the muffin and release. Serves with room temperature butter.
Corn, chicken and ginger stir fry
This is a quick, simple stir fry ideal for a light, summery dinner. Serve with steamed white or brown rice and a cucumber salad. You can easily double the recipe for a larger crowd.
- 2 boneless chicken thighs, cut into ½-inch pieces, about ½ pound
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or peanut oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon julienne strips ginger
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- ½ cup finely chopped leek or onion
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh seeded chili pepper, or 1 to 2 teaspoons Chinese chili crisp or hot pepper sauce to taste
- 2 to 4 large ears corn, shucked and kernels cut off, about 2 cups
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- 2 finely chopped scallions
- About ⅓ cup coarsely chopped cilantro
- Place the chicken in a bowl and stir in the cornstarch, salt, and pepper.
- Heat the cooking oil in a wok over high heat and let it get hot. Add the chicken and cornstarch and cook, stirring only once or twice so it gets nicely browned, about 5 minutes. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon keeping the oil in the wok.
- Add the sesame oil, minced and julienned ginger, garlic, and onion and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add the chili pepper and corn and cook for 1 minute. Add the chicken back to the wok and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and half the scallions and cook for another 2 minutes. Serves hot with rice and top with the remaining scallions and cilantro.
How to cut kernels off the cob
Many cooks have tricks for the best way to remove the kernels from a cob of corn. I like to keep it simple: Place the shucked ear of corn in the middle of a large bowl. Holding the cob with one hand, and working with a sharp knife, I cut down the cob removing the kernels and the milk (the white liquid) that is just beneath the kernels. Then I flip the cob over and get any remaining kernels from the other side. Keep the cobs for making corn stock; recipe below.
You can use this sweet stock for chowders, vegetable soups, or deglazing a skillet.
- 4 to 8 corn cobs without kernels
- 1 onion, chopped
- 4 peppercorns
Place the corn cobs, onion, peppercorns and a generous bit of salt into a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover slightly, and simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour. Taste for seasoning adding more salt and pepper as needed. If the stock tastes weak, continue to cook for another 10 to 15 minutes. Strain the stock; it can be frozen for 6 months or kept in a tightly sealed jar and refrigerated for around 4 to 5 days.
More corn recipes:
- Recipes for corn tacos, curry and a tart
- Recipes for corn salad, cornbread, scallops with corn, and a cacio e pepe corn
- Recipes for corn fritters, chowder, salad, spoon bread, and corn relish