The heat wave has finally broken, and the sweet corn has come in. Time to make the most of Western New York's most delicious season.
Many will insist that the finest sweet corn experience of all involves nothing more than cobs delivered fresh from the cooking pot, due for a slather of butter and a sprinkle of salt. We would not argue otherwise.
Yet the "sweet corn" available the other 11 months of the year, usually from Florida, is so gummy, wan and second-rate that corn fans will go far to exploit its brief homegrown abundance. Here are two sweet corn dishes that you can adjust to your own tastes, but are still sure to delight crowds, as they use sweet corn as a canvas for a larger adventure in flavors and textures.
Grilling sweet corn brings out toasty flavors as sugars in the kernels caramelize. One simple taste-heightener would be making a batch of herb butter by whipping softened butter with your favorite chopped herbs, roasted garlic and such.
South of the border, grilled corn is a classic Mexican street snack. Fire-marked ears are brushed with mayonnaise, which lets crumbled, salty cheese adhere in a fine, even layer before it's dusted with chili powder. Chopped cilantro and juice from a lime wedge complete the deal.
The recipe here calls for cotija cheese, but finely crumbled feta or grated Parmesan would work, too.
It also calls for a tidy approach to the husks, tying them off with string when you fold them back. That's not strictly necessary, but if you're planning on guests juggling a cocktail in the other hand, it might be helpful.
Or you can just say it's summer, serve it out in the backyard and let the queso crumbs fall where they may.
Our second recipe is a side dish with a pedigree.
In "Momofuku," award-winning chef and cookbook author David Chang wrote that his restaurant's saute of corn, bacon and onion, glazed with stock and butter blended with miso (umami-rich fermented soybean paste) was so good he banned it from the menu. "The summer we ran that dish," he wrote, "it was like we were a corn restaurant that just happened to sling some noodles on the side."
Don't go tweezer-crazy over the cornsilk when you shuck the corn. It will be much easier to pick the remaining silk shreds out of the bowl of kernels.
To turn miso-butter corn into an entree, Chang suggests topping it with a few briefly seared jumbo shrimp or an egg, either poached or fried.
Momofuku's cooks could use ramen broth and roasted onion in his restaurant, but the version here is worthy of the name. Use the best broth you can get your hands on or water in a pinch.
Now that Chang has sworn off the stuff, you can make it your own. Use bacon fat instead of oil for the saute if you dig pig and want to heighten the smoky flavor. Or skip the bacon entirely and use a tablespoon of smoked paprika instead, making it a vegetarian dish.
Add slivered spicy chili pepper or diced sweet bell pepper with the onions. Just don't skip the miso butter, a subtly savory sauce ingredient that will have you puzzling out other uses.
However you tinker, you're likely to turn out a dish that will have the masses clamoring for more.
A better boil?: Try this tip for cooking ears of corn without heating up your kitchen as much with a pot of boiling water. Shuck corn and put three or four inches of clean husks in the bottom of your corn pot. Put in just enough water to cover the husks, stand cobs on end and cover the pot. The pot boils faster with less water and steam cooks the corn. After five to 10 minutes of steam, check to see if they're done as you want them.
> Corn with Bacon and Miso Butter
1/4 pound thick-sliced bacon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons shiro (white) miso
1 onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
6 cups sweet corn kernels, freshly cut (8 to 10 ears)
2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chicken stock or water
Cut bacon crosswise into 1/8 -inch strips. Cook bacon in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, about 8 minutes. While bacon cooks, stir together butter and miso in a small bowl until uniform.
Transfer bacon with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Pour off fat.
Add oil to medium-hot skillet. Cook onion over moderate heat, stirring, until golden, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon, leaving oil in pan. Add corn, bacon, 1/4 cup scallions, cooked onions and pepper and increase heat to high. Cook, stirring constantly, until some of the kernels are pale golden and a few brown, 3 to 4 minutes.
Add water and miso butter and cook, stirring, until corn is tender and coated with miso butter and no liquid is left in pan, about 2 minutes. Taste and add salt and more pepper if desired. Serve sprinkled with remaining 1/4 cup scallions. (Adapted from David Chang's "Momofuku.")
> Grilled Corn Mexican Style
4 large ears corn, with husks still attached
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 cups shredded or crumbled cotija cheese
4 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
4 teaspoons chile powder, preferably ancho
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 lime, cut into wedges
Working with one ear of corn at a time, peel back the husks to expose the kernels, leaving husks attached at the base; remove the silk threads and tie husks together with kitchen twine around base of cob to form a handle. Repeat with remaining ears. Transfer corn to a large bowl or pot of water and let soak for 30 minutes.
(Or leave the husks untied and don't soak the cobs, if that seems like too much work.)
Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill over medium-high heat. Transfer corn to grill; cook, turning occasionally, until charred in spots, 10-20 minutes. Remove corn from grill and brush with mayonnaise. (Or sour cream thinned with a little cream.)
Place cheese on a plate and roll each ear of corn in cheese to coat. Sprinkle corn evenly with some of the cilantro, chili powder, and salt and pepper, pressing the corn so that seasonings and cheese will adhere to the mayonnaise. Serve with lime wedges. (Adapted from Saveur.)