Tips for enjoying summer sweet corn
Editor’s note: Scorpacciata is a term that means consuming large amounts of a particular local ingredient while it’s in season. It’s a good way to eat. David LeFevre is the executive chef and co-owner of Manhattan Beach Post in Manhattan Beach, California.
(CNN) — Like Garrison Keillor said, “Sex is good, but not as good as fresh sweet corn.”
Sweet corn evokes memories of my summers on the East Coast with my grandfather and the wonderful meals that my grandmother would make with the corn that my grandfather and I had picked, shucked and cooked.
When corn season comes around, it is always an exciting time in the restaurant. We focus on a few key things when we are cooking with corn: the best quality product, a fresh product, minimal cooking time so as to not lose the fresh sweet flavor, proper technique, and making sure to remember it’s a fun, down-and-dirty experience to eat it.
First and foremost, it is important to start with a great ear of corn. Never buy corn that is refrigerated! That means you should check the quality at the market or store*. Peel back the top outer layers and silk of the cob to make sure it has even rows and no signs of bugs. You can even take a kernel off and taste it to see if it’s sweet.
My grandfather taught me when I was young the importance of freshness with corn. First, he would put a huge pot of salted water on the stove and turn the gas on high. We would then get in his car and drive the half mile to my great uncle’s to pick 12-18 ears of corn. On the drive back, I had to clean the ears in the car into a paper bag. Once we got home, my grandmother would have all of dinner ready – except for the corn.
The water was boiling by then and we would drop the corn in the water and cook it for 3-5 minutes, just until it was cooked through but not taking away any of the sweetness. It was awesome; he would eat that corn like a typewriter with kernels flying everywhere! I am not saying you have to do this, but you should cook and eat corn as soon as possible because it will be less sweet as time passes.
Remember: Corn tastes pretty darn good raw, you don’t need to cook the hell out of it. I prefer to cook corn until it is just cooked through, like most of my vegetables. If you are boiling it too long, you will lose flavor. If you grill it too long, it will get dry and starchy. If sauté it too long, it will become almost chewy.
Cooking technique is important because improper cooking can ruin even the greatest ear of corn. I prefer corn that is cooked with moisture. That can be done several ways: cooking it on the cob in seasoned boiling water, cutting the kernels off and lightly sautéing them with butter, or cooking the whole cob – leaves and all – over a live fire.
Lastly, do not worry about getting your hands dirty. Get in there and get butter and corn kernels up to your elbows. When I think of eating corn, I immediately envision butter on my cheeks and wet corn leaves on the back of my hands. It should be visceral and fun like ribs, fried chicken, or watermelon.
6 ears of corns, with stems
6 Tablespoons butter, softened
6 Tablespoons Parmesan, grated
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
Peel back the outer leaves of the corn, but leave them intact with the stem of the cob.
Remove all of the interior silk (Fun fact: there is one strand of silk for every kernel of corn!) and soak under water for 30 minutes.
Combine the butter, Parmesan, lime zest, cayenne pepper, salt, cilantro, garlic and cumin in a food processor.
Pulse the ingredients until they are well mixed, but not to blend them to a smooth purée.
Take half the butter mixture and spread it evenly onto the 6 corn cobs, on the rows of corn kernels. Reserve the rest of the butter mixture for later.
Turn back the outer leaves of the corn cob to cover the buttered rows of kernels and return it to its original shape.
Using butcher’s string, tie the ears so the outer leaves protect the kernels.
Grill over a wood fire at medium heat for approximately 8-10 minutes or until the corn kernels are soft and tender.
Cut the butcher’s string and remove them while keeping the charred leaves intact..
Place the cobs on a platter and serve to guests with the remaining butter mixture for seasoning, along with bibs and loads of napkins.
Guests should be able to turn back the outer grilled leaves and eat the corn holding it by the stem.
*Editor’s note: Not everyone agrees with the practice of opening ears at the market, arguing that exposure to the air shortens the the length of the corn’s freshness. See if your market has a policy in place before you land in hot water with the management.
By David LeFevre — Special to CNN