Kitchen Exhibitionist
The Culinary Quests of a Food Enthusiast Stuck in the Sticks
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Fresh Corn Three Ways

When I was growing up on suburban Long Island my parents became avid vegetable gardeners for a few years. Like most kids that age, I didn’t care for vegetables at all. However, I did appreciate the little side business I developed to deal with the surplus vegetables the garden produced. I would load my little red wagon with the extra veggies and pull it through the neighborhood, selling eggplants, peppers, tomatoes and zucchini door to door.

But at that age I would never eat any of those vegetables, not on purpose anyway. About the only vegetables I would allow to pass between my lips were potatoes and corn. That corn, most of the year, came either from a can or the freezer but in the summer time, before my parents caught the gardening bug, we had fresh corn on the cob from local farm stands. The fresh local corn was nothing like the canned or frozen varieties. My mother would boil it in a big pot of boiling water and we would eat it slathered with butter and sprinkled with salt. Even when I was missing my two front teeth I could nibble the kernels from the cob and not leave a single one behind. I would then suck the naked cob like a Popsicle to extract every last drop of that sweet corn flavor.

As good as that local farm corn was, the freshly picked corn from my parents’ garden was even better. Back then I attributed it to my parents’ green thumbs, but now I understand the real reason. From the minute an ear of corn is picked the sugars quickly begin to turn to starch, so even a few hours between picking and eating can made a noticeable difference in sweetness and even texture.

I didn’t understand that back then as a child, but I did know how to cook my parents’ garden corn on the cob. I would put a big pot of water on the stove to boil and toss in a spoonful of salt. Just before it looked it ready to boil I would run out to the garden, pick some ears of corn, quickly strip away the husk and silky hairs and immediately drop the ears into the pot just as the water began to boil hard, After 5 minutes or so, it was ready to eat. Mere minutes old, this was the best corn ever!

As a grown-up food enthusiast I now enjoy all vegetables and I’ve discovered much more interesting ways to cook fresh corn on the cob. My favorite is on the grill. Charcoal grilling offers a bonus smoky flavor but a gas grill works well too. While the grill is preheating remove the husks and silk from the corn. I like to scrub each ear with a soft vegetable brush to remove every little hair. When the grill is hot, oil the grate, and place the ears of corn directly on it. Brush the corn with melted butter and turn butter side down to start cooking. The butter is very important to keep the corn moist, and it adds great flavor. After two minutes or so, take a peek at the underside of the corn. It should be flecked with golden patches. Brush with more melted better and turn to cook the other side. Continue brushing the corn with butter and turning it until the corn is cooked and golden-flecked all the way around.

Now taste the magic that hot fire performs on fresh corn. The natural sugars in the corn actually caramelize, making the corn even sweeter. As it is not waterlogged from boiling, the fresh corn flavor is concentrated and the kernels are crisp tender, not soggy. This cooking method will make even supermarket corn taste better.

Sometimes I want to cook fresh corn, but I can’t grill it. Maybe it is raining outside, or perhaps I want to use the grill for cooking other things and have no room for the corn. In those cases, I make oven-roasted corn.

Fresh corn cooked this way has a wonderful roasted aroma and flavor, and juicy texture. Best of all, it is an incredibly simple way to cook a dozen ears of corn.
Arrange the oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Trim the long tassels from the ears of the ears of corn, but don’t husk them! Just place the whole ears of corn directly on the oven rack and cook for 30 – 40 minutes.
The husks will turn golden brown and the kitchen will smell wonderful. The corn is done when it feels soft when you press on it.

These cooked ears of corn are shucked very easily at this point. Strip off the browned husks and most of the corn silk comes right off along with the husks. Then just pass the butter and salt!

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