Corn is HERE NOW! Get it, eat it and also preserve it!
It is late summer in the Hudson Valley and the corn is perfect. Though it has been a wet summer and some fruiting veggies like squash and tomatoes have been somewhat challenged, corn has thrived. Why? Because corn is grass, and we all know what happens to our lawn when it rains a lot. It grows like crazy!
Here in the Northeast we are blessed with what I am convinced is the most delicious sweet corn in the world. Year after year I am amazed at what nature has to offer us! Butter and sugar corn, or two toned corn, grown by many farms in the Hudson Valley is my favorite.
Butter and Sugar corn is a specific variety of sweet corn that is known for its balance of sweet and savory flavor and unique kernel coloration. The kernels are typically a mix of both yellow and white, resembling the colors of butter and sugar, hence the name. It is tender, flavorful, and sweet. But not overly so. It is my favorite classic taste of sweet corn.
Do you really want local?
To truly capture the magic of this summer corn, the secret is in cooking it before the sugars convert to starch. As soon as the corn is pulled from the stalk, the sugars begin to convert to starch. So buy it and eat it the same day or follow my recipe below to have it all winter long.
There are many farm stands here in the Hudson Valley that sell “morning corn” from the mornings picking and “afternoon corn”, picked after lunch to assure it is as sweet as can be. The morning and afternoon corn that isn’t sold that day is usually shipped to supermarkets, where it is rare to find truly fresh corn. There are a few exceptions, such as one of my favorite stores in my area, Adams Fairacre Farms who gets fresh corn daily during the season, but most big chains are selling old corn.
I encourage you to take that ride to your local farm stand or farmers market to purchase your corn from the source. If you want to experience the real treat of summer, take that drive to a farm stand or hit your farmers market for the best stuff. Supermarket corn does not even compare, and that pre-shucked corn wrapped in plastic is a sad thing. Don’t buy it if you can avoid it.
What about Mexican street corn?
Mexican street corn is all the rage today. It sells like crazy at food trucks and cafes but really, with corn as good as Butter and Sugar, why bury it in condiments? The idea of street corn was developed as a way to make bland, starchy yellow corn grown in Mexico and the Southwest taste good. It is nothing like our sweet corn and needs the flavor boost of mayo, lime chiles and cheese to make it palatable. It is a waste in my opinion to bury sweet corn in other flavors.
What about Butter?
Sloshing butter on sweet corn is not only delicious, but healthy too. Really? Yes! As well as being a good (and obvious) source of fiber, corn has many phytonutrients; vitamins like A, B, E, and K, crucial minerals such as magnesium, potassium and phosphorus, phenolic acids and flavonoids, plant sterols, and other phytochemicals. Consuming corn with butter, or another fat, helps your body assimilate these nutrients better. Many of these nutrients bind with fat, giving your body time to absorb these healthy components more slowly. FYI, this is a fact for all vegetables. As I have said in previous writings, over centuries of eating to survive, peasants figured that stuff out. Adding fat to grains and vegetables makes it more accessible to your body.
Eat some now and save some for when it is gone!
I have developed a technique for capturing that freshly harvested flavor of sweet corn to use in your recipes year round! Of all of the techniques I have tried, this roasting technique yields the best results. It is the secret to having sweet local corn at your disposal all year. After processing thousands of ears of corn over my 30 year restaurant life, I assure you this is tested, tried and true.
At both of my New World restaurants, I notified my prep cooks that we will be having a “corn” day. I would arrive with as many as 10 sacks of corn and we, as a team, would roast, cut, bag and freeze this summer sweet corn to have in your kitchen all winter. We prepped so much that I actually purchased a chest freezer just for the corn. I had a dish with “local corn salsa” on my menu for ages. One January evening a supercilious customer told his server that I should update my menu, since there was no local corn in winter. Me, being me, came out to the dining room and asked the customer to take a little walk with me. I escorted him to the basement and I showed him my freezer full of bags of frozen local corn.
He hugged me and said, “I should’ve had faith in you, Chef.”
SO make that commitment. Grab your corn while it is in peak season and process it as described below. Make it a family endeavor! Hit the market, grab some corn and make it! Involve the kids or grandkids. It is a good lesson they will remember forever.
Use it in corn bread, chowder, salsas, stews, stuffings and more. Using this in your Thanksgiving corn casserole will truly make you give thanks for the harvest.
Do it this week!
Right now, you can by a 48 ear bag of corn at any farm stand for about $20! With that bag you can make 12-15 one-pound freezer bags of corn Go for it!
Basic Technique for Roasting Corn
There is no soaking necessary here. It’s just in the oven and out. Presto.
You can roast as many ears as you can fit in a single layer.
Preheat oven to 425.
Use fresh corn on the cob, in the husks, just as it is, not shucked or soaked.
Place corn in the oven, right on the racks, no cookie sheet. This allows the air to circulate evenly around the ear.
Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the green outer husk becomes a straw yellow.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
The corn will continue to genty steam in its husk as it cools, retaining all of its sweetness.
Shuck and wipe only remaining silk from the cob with a towel. Do not rinse.
Use a small knife to cut the kernels from the cobs. Cut in a downward motion, top to bottom.
Bag it up in airtight bags squeezing out as much as as you can. Then seal and freeze.
Reserve some cobs to make roasted corn broth below.
This is the basic recipe for capturing the essence of corn in a liquid form. Aside from the corn consomme recipe below I use this for soups, chowders, and for steaming mussels and shrimp. I also use it in my cornbread and polenta recipes for added flavor.
12 corn cobs reserved from my roasted corn broken in half.
One small onion
1/2 cup chardonnay
1 small piece of vanilla bean
1 clove garlic
1 sprig of basil
1 sprig of thyme
Put cobs in heavy pot with the rest of the ingredients and 1 gallon of water
Bring to a rolling boil then simmer for 45 minutes.
If you can, allow it to cool completely before strain for extra flavor.
Strain and refrigerate or freeze in containers for later use.
Sweet Corn Consommé
This is a beautiful, light, and exciting clear soup that dazzles as a first course.
1 quart roasted corn stock
1 cup freshly cut corn kernels,
1/2 cup very finely diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup finely minced scallions or chives
2 tablespoons basil leaves, shredded if large
½ teaspoon hot sauce, or to taste
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Divide corn, pepper, scallion, and herbs evenly between four shallow soup bowls. Heat the roasted corn stock until boiling. Add salt and hot sauce; it should taste sweet with a hint of saltiness and a pinch of tangy heat. Gently ladle the consommé over the vegetables and serve piping hot.
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