Crazy about corn

Menu planning purists might shudder at the thought, but corn on the cob is one of those foods you could make a meal of – all by itself! Just a plate of sweet golden steaming cobs of corn.

OK, so you’ll probably add a little – or a lot – of melted butter. And a sprinkling of salt. Maybe you’ll even get rather messy eating ‘gobs of cobs’.

But while your plate might lack the recommended variety of colors, shapes, textures and flavors a perfectly planned meal is supposed to contain, it has the edge where it really counts. In flavor!

A simple meal of corn on the cob is more than acceptable, especially if it’s drizzled with a butter, or better yet – flavored butter. Flavored butters are easily made by combining seasonings like herbs and lemon or lime juice with softened or melted butter. Let these simple examples stimulate your creative juices so you can come up with your own favourite flavoured butters.

Flavoured Butters for Corn on the Cob
(Makes about 1/2 cup/125 mL)

To 1/2 cup (125 mL) softened butter, add any of the following combinations:
* Juice of 1 lime, 3 tablespoons (45 mL) snipped fresh cilantro
* 1 minced garlic clove, 2 tablespoons (30 mL) finely chopped fresh marjoram
* 1 tablespoon (15 mL) tomato paste, 1 teaspoon (5 mL) lemon juice
* 2 tablespoons (30 mL) chili sauce, 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) lemon juice
* 2 tablespoons (30 mL) snipped fresh dill, 1 teaspoon (5 mL) lemon juice, a couple of drops of hot pepper sauce
* 1-1/2 tablespoons (22 mL) horseradish
* 1 tablespoon (15 mL) Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon (15 mL) lemon juice

Tips for buying, storing and cooking corn:

* Choose ears with bright green color and tight fitting husks. The silk should be golden brown. You should be able to feel the kernels through the husks without having to pull back the husk to check for the quality of the ear. The kernels should feel plump and juicy and the rows should be tightly spaced. Avoid corn with soft spots or signs of decay.

* As soon as corn is picked, its sugars begin to turn to starch. Fresh sweet corn should be eaten as soon as possible after buying. It will stay fresh for a couple of days, unhusked, in the refrigerator, preferably wrapped in damp paper towel in a plastic bag. For best quality, husk the corn just before cooking.

* Husking corn or removing its outer leaves and inner silk is also known as shucking. The silk inside the husk can be difficult to remove. Try running a wet paper towel down the ear to grab some of the silky strands.

* Corn can be prepared by boiling, steaming, oven roasting or grilling, or microwaving.

  • To boil, fill a large pot with enough water to cover the corn. Don’t add salt to the water as it will toughen the corn. A teaspoon (5 mL) of sugar per quart (litre) of water will help to sweeten the corn although today’s sweet varieties of corn tend to be sugary enough for my tastes. Carefully slip the husked ears into the boiling water. Bring the water back to a boil and cook for 4 to 8 minutes depending on the age of the corn. Younger corn will take less time to cook. I tend to use aroma as a sign that the corn is cooked. When the kitchen smells like corn, it’s time to remove the ears from the water.
  • Corn can be steamed over boiling water for 7 or 8 minutes, depending on the size of the ears.
  • To oven roast or grill corn on the cob, peel back the husks but leave them attached at the base. Remove the silk; re-wrap the ears in their husks and tie with string or a piece of husk to hold the husks in place. Soak the ears in cold water for at least 30 minutes to increase the moisture and create some steam when the ears are roasted or grilled. Roast at 375F (190C) for about 15 minutes. Or grill the corn over medium heat or about 4 inches (10 cm) from hot coals, turning occasionally, until tender, about 15 minutes. You can also wrap husked corn in aluminum foil and roast or grill it for the same length of time.
  • Cook corn in the microwave by placing four husked ears in a microwaveable baking dish; add 1/4 cup (60 mL) water. Cover with plastic wrap and cook on High power until tender, about 8 to 12 minutes. Let stand a minute or two before unwrapping.

Corny Trivia:
* One medium ear of corn will yield about 1 cup (250 mL) of corn.

* If you want to remove the kernels from the an ear of cooked or uncooked corn, first cut a small piece off the tip of the ear so it is flat. Stand the ear upright on the flat end. Using a sharp knife, cut down a few rows of kernels at a time, close to the cob. If you wish, cut down about half way all around the cob, then turn it upside down and cut the kernels off the other half. Use the back of the knife’s blade to scrape down the cob to get all the juice. (I like to stand the ear in a large bowl while cutting. This keeps at least some of the kernels from scattering all over the counter. I once saw a chef cut the kernels cleanly off a cob by standing a ear of corn, pointed end down, in the centre section of an angel food cake pan, then slicing off the kernels. The kernels dropped neatly into the pan.)

* Raw corn kernels can be cooked or stir fried, and raw or cooked kernels can be used to make muffins, bread, soup, salad, pancakes or pudding.

* Kernels from leftover cooked corn can be removed from the ears and used in salads, soups, muffins or pancakes.

* For a delicious base for soups or stews, create a corn broth by simmering leftover fresh or cooked cobs in milk or milk and water for 30 minutes. Discard the cobs.

Beyond Corn on the Cob
For corn purists, corn on the cob is the only way to enjoy fresh corn, but if you are looking for some simple recipes for using corn kernels, here are a few suggestions.

Easy Spicy Grilled Vegetables
(Makes 4 servings)

1/4 cup (60 mL) margarine or butter
2 tablespoons (30 mL) taco seasoning mix or Tex-Mex seasoning blend
4 ears corn, husked
1 large potato, cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm) slices
2 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise in half
1 large bell pepper, cut into quarters
1 medium onion, cut into quarters

In a small bowl, combine margarine and taco seasoning. Brush some of the mixture on corn, potato, zucchini, pepper and onion. Grill corn over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add remaining vegetables to grill. Grill until tender, 10 to 20 minutes, turning frequently. As vegetables are cooked, remove from grill and keep warm.

Corn and Tomatoes in Basil Butter
(Makes 6 to 8 servings)

3 tablespoons (45 mL) unsalted butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon (15 mL) balsamic vinegar
6 ears of corn, husked and kernels removed (about 6 cups/1.5 L)
1/4 cup (60 mL) finely chopped fresh basil
18 to 20 cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half

Melt butter in a large skillet or medium saucepan over medium heat; add shallots and balsamic vinegar. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add corn and sauté for 4 or 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add cherry tomatoes and basil. Sauté just until tomatoes are warmed through but not mushy, about 2 minutes.

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