The husk of the best corn should be moist and green, and the ear should feel heavy and plump. (Matthew Mead / AP)
A field of corn is one of the most iconic images of summer.
Standing tall, tassles blowing in the breeze, sweet corn is picked at the peak of perfection and sent by the truckload from fields and farms across Southeastern Michigan to be consumed by folks who have waited all year for the golden ears.
Showcased at farmers markets, roadside stands and U-pick farms, the white, bicolor and yellow sweet corn is finally here. With varieties such as Peaches and Cream, Silver Queen and Early Sunglow, could there be any better way to celebrate the dog days of summer?
A cob of corn looks great sidled up next to a platter of ribs or a grilled burger, but there are so many other ways and reasons to be crazy about corn. Purists prefer serving it steamed and simple with nothing more than being slathered in butter to showcase all the crunchy kernels. (And if you’ve never sampled a fresh ear of corn raw, you’re missing out on one of the best tastes ever.) But corn is equally delicious when cut off the cob and used in a creamy custard, soup, salad or casserole.
For centuries, corn has been a life source to civilizations. It’s high in vitamins, fiber and complex carbohydrates, and in the vegetable kingdom, it is second to none in its amazing versatility. You could circle the globe and sample corn in just about any cuisine from Chinese and Thai soups and stir-fries to Indian curries, Italian polenta and American Southwest tortilla and tamale dishes.
Corn is cultivated in nearly every state, but locally, according to the Michigan Corn website micorn.org, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Crop Production report for 2013 was estimated at 13.9 billion bushels nationally and 348 million bushels in Michigan.
When purchasing corn, the Michigan Department of Agriculture suggests you choose ears with medium-sized kernels. Do this by peeling back just a little bit of the husk to check the kernels.
Very small kernels are immature, and large kernels have a starchy taste. The husk of the corn should be moist and green, and the ear should feel heavy and plump.
If you’re picking corn yourself, look for brown silk and pierce a kernel with your nail. If the milk is opaque, the corn is ready for picking.
And speaking of pulling back the husk, those people you see in the market stripping those delicate ears of their husks so fast and furiously are doing themselves and the corn a great disservice. As soon as an ear is picked, the sugar in the corn begins converting to starch, and removing the husk accelerates that process. Without its husk, the corn dries out.
Also, don’t insult the farmer by stripping ears before you buy. If you see a tiny worm when you get the ears home, flick it off with your fingernail or cut away the damage; it won’t hurt you.
Ideally, corn is best eaten on the day it’s purchased and kept cool. If left at room temperature, the glucose in corn will convert to starch in as little as 24 hours, though many super-sweet varieties have been bred to stay sweeter longer. “Fresher is better” is always the rule.
If you must store it, wrap it in a damp towel and tuck inside a plastic bag to be refrigerated for no more than a couple days. If you want to keep it longer, remove the husks and silk and steam it for 2 minutes. Cut off the kernels and store them in a sealed bag in the freezer.
Lastly, when cooking those ears, bring a big pot of water to a rapid boil, pop in the ears and let them cook for no more than 3 minutes. You can also microwave or grill corn after soaking the ears first. If you want to add a dash of sugar to the cooking water, fine, but whatever you do, don’t add salt (it toughens the corn) until you’ve rolled it in butter. Its fresh sweetness will delight you more than any candy bar.
Corn cooking tips
■Sweet corn is rich in vitamin C, iron, thiamine and riboflavin, not to mention fiber.
■To remove kernels from the cob, slice ear in half horizontally and stand in shallow bowl. With a sharp knife, slice down the sides of the ear. After kernels are removed, use dull side of knife to scrape along cob to release the milk from the cob.
■Cooking corn for a crowd: Peel back husks, leaving them attached, and remove silk. Smear ears with softened butter and rewrap with husks. Pile in a roasting pan, cover with foil and roast in 450-degree oven for 8-10 minutes.
■When grilling corn, soak it in the husk for a few hours. Be aware, however, that if you leave the husks on while the corn grills, you are effectively steaming the ears, although they will absorb some of the smoky flavor. If you place the shucked ears directly on the grill, you’ll get a more intense flavor. Grill until lightly browned, about 3-4 minutes, then sprinkle with fresh lime juice and a mixture of chile powder and salt.
Fresh corn should be cooked and served the day it is picked or purchased. If not refrigerated, most varieties will begin to lose flavor as the sugar converts to bland-tasting starch within 12 hours of being picked. If corn must be stored, even briefly, refrigerate in the husk.
Fresh: Husk and clean corn of its silk. Place in a pot of boiling water. Add a teaspoon of sugar for each quart of water to replace any natural sugar it may have lost. Adding salt will toughen the kernels. Remove corn after water has returned to a boil.
Frozen: Blanch corn in hot water for three to five minutes. Rinse corn with cold water and drain before storing in an airtight, freezer safe container.
Corn is found to be a good source of Vitamin A, B and C, as well as folate, phosphorus and potassium. Yellow sweet corn also offers a supply of lutein, which benefits vision and the cardiovascular system.
Source: Michigan Department of Agriculture
10 fresh ways to dress up corn on the cob
It’s hard to improve on the delicious simplicity of summer perfect corn on the cob slathered with butter and sprinkled with salt.
But we figured we’d give it a try anyway. And we quickly learned that fresh corn is a splendid foundation on which all manner of flavor combinations can be built, from sweet (check out the Fluff masterpiece below) to savory (bacon, anyone?) to spicy (chili lime!). So use our list as a starting point and see how many directions you can go with your corn.
Blue cheese chive butter: Mash together 4 tablespoons softened butter with 4 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese. Stir in 2 tablespoons finely chopped chives and ½ teaspoon ground black pepper. Spread on hot corn on the cob.
Old Bay boil: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season heavily with Old Bay Seasoning. Boil husked ears of corn until tender, about 5 minutes. Serve with butter and an additional sprinkle of Old Bay.
Spreadable bacon: Cook 1 slice of bacon per ear of corn. In a food processor, crumble the bacon and process until finely chopped. Add 1 tablespoon of butter per ear, a pinch of salt and black pepper, and ½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar. Spread on hot corn on the cob.
Herb vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, a hefty pinch of salt and black pepper, 3 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme. Drizzle over the corn.
Toasted almond and tarragon: Spread ½ cup ground almonds on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until golden and toasted, about 8 minutes. Allow to cool. Mix in 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt. Coat each hot ear of corn with butter, then roll in the almond-tarragon mixture.
Toasted marshmallow: Husk 6 ears of corn, skewer with long skewers, and coat lightly with cooking spray. Grill over medium-high until tender and lightly charred, turning frequently. Spread each ear of corn with a couple tablespoons of marshmallow spread (Fluff). Turn the grill flame up (or use a campfire) and toast the marshmallow on all sides.
Smoked feta and pepper: Finely crumble ½ cup smoked feta cheese. Mix in 2 tablespoons finely chopped pickled jalapeno peppers. Coat each hot ear of corn with butter, then roll in the cheese and pepper mixture.
Jerk grilled: Whisk together 1 tablespoon water and 2 tablespoons molasses. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat 4 ears of corn with the molasses mixture. Sprinkle all over with purchased or homemade jerk seasoning. Grill over indirect heat on well-oiled grates until tender.
Chili lime: Spread cooked ears of corn on a platter. Sprinkle with fresh lime juice, finely grated lime zest, ground cumin, minced serrano chili and salt.
Saffron and olive cream: Mix 2 tablespoons minced Kalamata olives, 2 tablespoons minced green olives, a pinch of saffron and a pinch of black pepper into ¼ cup mascarpone cheese. Spread over hot corn on the cob.
Alison Ladman / Associated Press
Sweet Corn and Basmati Rice Salad
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 large ears yellow corn, husked
1 cup chopped green onions
2 ¼ cups water
1 ½ cups basmati rice
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups coarsely chopped toasted pecans
3 bunches watercress (about 12 ounces total), stems discarded
Whisk red wine vinegar and mustard in large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in ½ cup oil. Season vinaigrette to taste with salt and pepper.
Using large, sharp knife, cut corn kernels from cobs. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add green onions; sauté 30 seconds. Add corn; sauté until corn is crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Vinaigrette and corn mixture can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover separately; chill. Rewarm corn mixture over medium heat and rewhisk vinaigrette before using.)
Bring 2 ¼ cups water to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Rinse rice in strainer. Add rice and ½ teaspoon salt to boiling water. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook until water is absorbed and rice is tender (do not stir), about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with fork.
Mix rice, corn mixture and pecans in large bowl. Mix in vinaigrette and watercress. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 8.
Per serving: 432 calories; 28 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 58 percent calories from fat); 41 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 199 mg sodium; 7 g protein; 4 g fiber.
Grilled Corn with Sweet-Savory Asian Glaze
Recipe from Bon Appetit
3 tablespoons fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam) (see note)
2 tablespoons water
1 ½ tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons (¼ stick) butter
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional for brushing corn
1 tablespoon thinly sliced green onions, white part only (from about 3)
6 ears of corn, husked
Stir first 4 ingredients in small bowl until sugar dissolves. Melt butter with 2 tablespoons oil in small saucepan over medium heat. Add fish sauce mixture and green onions and simmer until sauce begins to thicken, about 2 minutes.
Do ahead: Butter sauce can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.
Preheat barbecue (medium-high heat). Brush corn with oil. Grill corn until tender and charred in spots, about 13 minutes. Brush corn generously with butter sauce and serve, passing remaining sauce separately. Serves 6.
Note: Fish sauce is a versatile ingredient. Try it (1) mixed with garlic and cilantro as a marinade for grilled chicken, (2) in barbecue sauce for ribs, (3) in a salad of slivered green apples and chopped cilantro, and (4) in a compound butter with cayenne and shallots for grilled fish. It is available in the Asian foods section of many supermarkets and at Asian markets.
Per serving: 180 calories; 11 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 55 percent calories from fat); 21 g carbohydrates; 3 g sugar; 11 mg cholesterol; 751 mg sodium; 3 g protein; 2.5 g fiber.
Fresh Corn Pancakes
Recipe from Gourmet
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 to 4 ears corn
¾ cup whole milk
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Accompaniment: pure maple syrup, or salsa and sour cream
Whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl.
Cut enough kernels from cobs to measure 2 cups. Using back of a knife, scrape pulp from cobs and transfer to a blender with milk and ½ cup corn. Purée until smooth, then strain through a sieve into another medium bowl, pressing on and then discarding solids. Whisk in eggs, oil and butter.
Add to flour mixture with remaining 1 ½ cups corn and whisk until just combined.
Heat a griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat until hot, then lightly brush with oil. Working in batches, pour 1⁄3 cup batter per pancake onto griddle and cook until bubbles appear on surface and undersides are golden-brown, about 2 minutes. Flip with a spatula and cook until undersides are golden-brown, about 1 minute more. (Reduce heat if pancakes brown too quickly.) Lightly oil griddle between batches if necessary. Makes 4 servings (about 12 pancakes).
Per serving: 540 calories; 36 g fat (18 g saturated fat; 60 percent calories from fat); 45 g carbohydrates; 6 g sugar; 178 mg cholesterol; 1,046 mg sodium; 11 g protein; 3 g fiber.
Corn and Coconut Pudding
Recipe adapted from Gourmet
3 ¼ cups corn (from 4 ears; reserve cobs)
1 cup well-stirred, unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup whole milk
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1⁄8 teaspoon cinnamon plus additional for sprinkling
Scrape cobs with a knife over a bowl to extract “milk.” Blend corn and its milk with remaining ingredients and a pinch of salt in a blender until smooth. Force through a sieve into a heavy medium saucepan, pressing hard on and then discarding solids. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, then boil, whisking, 5 minutes. Divide among 6 (6-ounce) custard cups and chill, uncovered, until cool, at least 30 minutes.
Sprinkle with cinnamon before serving.
Pudding can be chilled, covered after 1 hour, up to 3 days. It will continue to set as it chills. Serves 6.
Per serving: 258 calories; 12 g fat (9 g saturated fat; 42 percent calories from fat); 37 g carbohydrates; 18 g sugar; 6 mg cholesterol; 39 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 3 g fiber.
Sweet Corn Chowder
Recipe from Saveur
5 cloves garlic
Kosher salt, to taste
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups pumpernickel bread, cut into ¾-inch cubes
Freshly ground black pepper and paprika, to taste
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ribs celery, minced
1 medium yellow onion, minced
8 cups fresh corn kernels
1 teaspoons curry powder
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup milk
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Put 1 clove garlic on a cutting board and sprinkle with salt. Using a knife, mince and scrape garlic against cutting board to form a paste. Transfer garlic paste to a large bowl and whisk in oil. Add pumpernickel cubes, season with salt, pepper and paprika, and toss to coat; transfer to a baking sheet. Bake, tossing occasionally, until toasted, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle with Parmesan; toss to coat evenly and set aside to cool.
Heat butter in a 6-quart pot over medium heat. Mince remaining garlic and add to pot along with celery and onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook, partially covered and stirring often, until vegetables are soft but not browned, 16-18 minutes. Add corn and curry powder and cook, stirring occasionally, until corn is soft and fragrant, 18-20 minutes. Vigorously stir in flour, then add chicken stock, half-and-half, and milk; bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavors meld, about 10 minutes. To serve, divide soup between serving bowls and top with croutons. Serves 6.
Per serving: 555 calories; 34 g fat (16 g saturated fat; 55 percent calories from fat); 58 g carbohydrates; 4 g sugar; 68 mg cholesterol; 426 mg sodium; 14 g protein; 7 g fiber.
Grilled Corn & Zucchini Quesadillas with Scallions, Cilantro and Pepperjack Cheese
Recipe from Gail Simmons, Estancia wine ambassador
1 ear of corn, shucked
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium zucchini, sliced on the sharp diagonal 1⁄8-inch thick (16 slices)
8 (8-inch) flour tortillas
1 cup shredded Pepperjack cheese
4 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced on diagonal (½ cup)
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
Preheat a grill to medium-high. Rub corn with oil and season with salt and pepper; grill, turning, until lightly charred all over, 6 to 8 minutes total. Let cool slightly, then cut the kernels off cob.
Brush zucchini with oil; season with salt and pepper. Grill until tender, about 3 minutes per side. Lay tortillas on a work surface. Leaving a ¾-inch border, top evenly with cheese, corn, zucchini, scallions and cilantro, then fold each tortilla over to form half moons. Grill quesadillas until cheese is melted, turning once, 5 minutes total. Transfer to a cutting board; cut into wedges. Garnish with cilantro. Serve hot. Serves 4.
Per serving: 432 calories; 20 g fat (8 g saturated fat; 42 percent calories from fat); 49 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 30 mg cholesterol; 837 mg sodium; 15 g protein; 2 g fiber.