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Volume 39 Issue 14 • August 6-12, 2009
now in our 39th season

How Sweet the Corn Is

by Jenn Farmer
Sous Chef at Bartlett's Farm

I am a relatively happy person, but today I was ecstatic— I got to eat the first local sweet corn of the season.  If you have never eaten fresh sweet corn, there is nothing like it in the world.  In fact it is so sweet and delicious that you can eat it raw off the cob, when it is freshly picked.  I brought some home for a friend and her kids; they ate most of it before dinner.  My son was trying to sneak it out of the fridge as I was cooking our dinner.  I guess it is difficult to stop when once you start eating it. 

Sweet corn is definitely best when it is first harvested, in fact it losses sweetness pretty quickly after it is picked, since it continues to convert the natural sugars to starches.  In other words the faster you eat it after it is picked, and purchased, the better it will taste. 

Everyone has a favorite way to prepare sweet corn.  The most popular is to husk it, and boil it briefly in water, then slather in butter and enjoy.  Some people add sugar or milk to the cooking water to boost the sweetness of the corn, but if the corn is fresh to begin with this will not be necessary.  Grilling is another fine method, simply remove the husk and silk and toss the corn on the grill.  The flavor of the corn is lovely with the slight smokiness from the charcoal.  My favorite is actually a combination of the two processes.  I love to peel the husks back—just enough to remove the silks, but not remove the husk from the cob.  Then pull the husks back over the cobs and dip them into clean ocean water, or let them soak in it for a few minutes if possible.  Next throw them onto a hot grill and let them cook for about 10-15 minutes.  It tastes great because the salt from the seawater seasons them and assists in the steaming process.  They also get a flavor from the grill itself.  Add a little butter and it is delightful.  If you are striving for perfection, the grilling will occur during a sunset on a beach, with other lovely food on the grill, and summer beverages.  Not much beats that!  If you are grilling out, don’t forget to get a permit from the fire department first, it costs a couple bucks, and will save you from getting into trouble with the local authorities).

Lucky for us here on Nantucket, sweet corn goes exceptionally well with seafood.  I love to add fresh kernel of sweet corn to crab salad, for extra crunch and sweetness.  I also like to add it to mignonette and put it on raw oysters.  Then there is the combination sweet corn and fresh scallops together; simple, sweet, and rustic, but also decadent and elegant in the flavor profile.  Corn chowder is taken to a new level with a few pieces of lobster meat added to it!  My all-time favorite is making a nice fresh salsa with tomatoes, red onion, garlic, lime, cilantro, chilies, and fresh corn, then pairing it with a nicely seared piece of cod or halibut.  I cannot think of any other flavor combination that makes me think of a perfect summer day by the ocean. 

Since Cape Cod is known for its chowder, and corn chowder is my favorite, here is fairly traditional recipe. 

Corn Chowder

  • 4 slices bacon, diced
  • 1 small leek (white and light green parts), thinly sliced
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1-2 ribs celery, cut into a 1/2-inch dice
  • 4 cups whole milk or half and half
  • 2 cups potatoes, peeled and cut into a 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 cups corn kernels (cut from about 5 ears)
  • Salt, Pepper

In a large saucepan, over medium-low heat, fry the bacon until browned, and crispy.  Set the crispy bacon aside, and use the dripping for sautéing.  Sauté the leeks, and celery in the hot bacon fat, then add the potatoes, thyme, bay leaf, and cook over medium flame, for a couple minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the milk, and bring to a simmer.  When the soup is hot add the corn kernels, and remove from the heat.  Discard the thyme and bay leaf, season with salt and pepper.  Serve the chowder with crispy bacon as a garnish. 

Serves 4

Surprisingly, sweet corn also lends itself well to spicy and very savory flavors.  Barbeque, smoked sausage, and green chilies are all great compliments to sweet corn.  Who doesn’t love some nice corn on the cob with bbq beef brisket, cole slaw and a slice of watermelon?  It just screams summertime!  Alternatively, sweet corn with chorizo makes a great soup or side dish.    

Seared Halibut with Sweet Corn Hash

  • Four 7-ounce halibut fillets, each approximately 1 inch thick
  • 1 chorizo (or other spicy sausage), medium diced
  • 1 small red onion, medium diced
  • 1 small serrano, or other hot green chili
  • 2 cups sweet corn kernels (about 5 ears)
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp cilantro, chopped

Season the halibut on both sides with salt and pepper. In a sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Sear the fish for about 3 minutes, until lightly browned. Turn, reduce the heat to medium, and cook about 4 minutes longer, until the fish is opaque in the center and browned on both sides. Put the fish on a platter and keep warm.

Meanwhile; sauté the chorizo sausage, in a pan, over medium heat. Add red onion, and chilies and sauté for 3–4 minutes, until soft. Add salt. Turn heat to medium-high and add corn kernels. Cook, for about 3–4 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Toss with lime juice, and cilantro. Serve with the seared halibut and fresh lime wedges.  Serves 4

Since sweet corn goes so well with savory and sweet, it is luscious in many Latin American dishes.  I actually love to put coconut milk, sweet corn, cilantro or basil and hot chilies together.  They are really wonderful, especially as a soup or side dish.  Even Asian flavors like soy and ginger go well with corn.  What I am saying is corn is so very versatile, try it a new way tonight ( that is if you can get it home without you or your kids eating it all on the way!)

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