Parents and kids can get corny in the kitchen during COVID-19
With many families spending more time at home due to the pandemic, there is inevitably a lot more cooking being done, and what better way to incorporate a delicious vegetable in a meal (or meals) than with corn?
A fresh sweet flavor makes corn America’s sweetheart, and it’s a vegetable that is typically universally loved (even picky kids seem to have an affinity for corn).
“In early June, I start counting the days until the first ears of corn are chock full of sugars, laden with goodness, and awaiting harvest,” says Tyler Renkert, a home cook from Newtown who eats corn about three times a week. Renkert’s love of corn has made him an expert on the vegetable. “They say the reason the corn here is so good is due to the soil in this region. This part of Connecticut has a rich history dating back to 1640 where it was discovered that the soil was the perfect place to grow tobacco. In the early 1800s, the tobacco was world renowned for a leaf used in cigar wrapping. Now that the tobacco leaves are gone the rich soil remains and contributes to the unique flavors of corn grown in this region.”
Renkert makes many corn dishes. “These are recipes I love, not just because they’re simple but the flavor and texture is what started my love of this vegetable/grain,” he said, explaining the importance of buying corn picked in the last 24 hours. “The sooner you go from stalk to pot the better. Corn undergoes a transformation once picked; the sugars start turning into starch within a few hours which causes the corn to lose its sweetness and the texture of the kernels becomes mealy.” Renkert also recommends husking right before cooking it so the husk locks in the flavor.
Megan Palmer-Rivera, managing director of Palmer’s Market and Palmer’s Catering in Darien, explains corn’s versatility. “You can steam it, grill it, roast it, saute it — the choices are endless. Even when it’s steamed and topped with butter, salt, and pepper, it hits the right notes; crunchy, creamy, sweet, and salty,” she says, noting local corn is abundant late July through mid-September. When buying corn, Palmer-Rivera explains the tassels should be brown and sticky, not black and dry, and suggests feeling the outside of the corn for plump and firm kernels.
For an easy dish, Palmer-Rivera cuts corn off the cob and sautes it with seasonal vegetables for a summer succotash. She also offers a quick corn risotto. “Cut the kernels off the cob and reserve them. Add the husks to a vegetable stock and boil for 45 minutes and use the stock to make the risotto. Saute the corn kernels in a little butter and fold them into the risotto at the end. Finish with chives and parmesan cheese,” she says.
Corn is on the menu year-round at bartaco, with locations in Westport and Stamford. “Our most popular dish featuring corn is our rendition of the popular Mexican street corn, seasoned with a tangy mayonnaise, salty Cotija cheese, and cayenne pepper,” says chef Jared Bennett. “Corn is one of the most versatile food items on the planet. It can be dried and ground into cornmeal for use in dishes like grits, polenta, fritters, corn cakes, or breads. Another large scale use of corn is in the making of masa, a corn dough used to make things like tortillas, tamales, and empanadas. Corn is a simple ingredient to prepare. The key is to not overcook it. Whether you’re simply boiling, steaming, or grilling, you want plump, juicy kernels.”
Bennett notes that corn isn’t traditionally used in sweet dishes, but it can be. “Some of the same dishes we think of for savory uses could also be made as sweeter renditions, such as johnnycakes with fruit toppings, sweet corn puddings, and caramel-coated popcorn,” says Bennett. “Corn in one form or another would also be a welcome addition to classic desserts like ice cream, cakes, cobblers, and cookies. It may not always be the star of these dishes, but it can certainly play a strong supporting role.”
As the weather gets warmer, Stew Leonard’s stores in Norwalk and Danbury receive daily shipments of corn from local farmers. “This super sweet corn is incredible and picked at sunrise — you don’t even need butter!” says executive chef Bob Langkammerer, who oversees chefs at Stew’s seven locations. “I love corn. It’s fun to eat outside and tastes great with either BBQ options or seafood. I prefer fresh, but I can eat it every day, especially if it’s Silver Queen corn from the Eastern Shore.” Langkammerer adds that one of his favorite ways to serve corn is as a soup, such as chilled corn and crab soup using “Chesapeake Bay jumbo lump [crab meat] and a claw for garnish.” He appreciates how corn makes a tasty side for pulled pork, grilled chicken, and clam bakes, or paired with any type of grilled fruit.
According to Renkert, the last two weeks of July in the Northeast are true corn nirvana, although fresh corn is available well into the fall. “By late July, the sugar content in corn is high, the husks are moist and plump — a perfect package ready to deliver savory goodness for those who choose to unlock the flavors, according to Renkert, who says, “I patiently await the summer’s crop to come to harvest. The season is too short, but when it begins, I’m all in.”
Corn & Manchego Salad
Courtesy of Palmer’s Darien
(Makes 8 servings)
6 ears of sweet yellow corn, unhusked
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. (¼ stick) unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 jalapeño, seeded, finely diced
½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges
1 cup finely grated manchego cheese
¼ cup thinly sliced chives
2 tsp. finely grated lime zest
1. Preheat oven to 450°. Roast unhusked corn on a baking sheet, turning occasionally, until heated through and crisp-tender, about 15 minutes. Let cool. Shuck corn and cut kernels from cobs.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add corn kernels and sauté until heated through and light-golden in spots, 3-5 minutes. Add butter; stir until melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Transfer corn to a large wide bowl or deep platter; sprinkle jalapeño and crushed red pepper flakes over. Squeeze lime wedges over; sprinkle with cheese, chives, and lime zest.
Stew Leonard’s Mexican Street Corn
Courtesy of Stew Leonard’s
(Serving size: 6-8 people)
6 to 8 medium ears sweet corn, husks removed
1/2 cup Mexican crema, or Stew Leonard’s Sour Cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup minced cilantro
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons lime zest, from one lime
2 tablespoons lime juice, from one lime
1/2 cup cotija cheese, crumbled, or ½ cup of Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper, to taste
Lime wedges, to serve
Heat a gas or charcoal grill to 400 degrees. Mix together the crema or sour cream, mayonnaise, cilantro, garlic, chipotle pepper, lime zest, and lime juice. Place the husked corn directly onto grill grates. Grill the corn for about 3 minutes or until kernels begin to turn golden brown and look charred. Turn the corn over and repeat. Slather each ear of corn with the crema mixture. Add a sprinkle of cheese and a dash of chipotle pepper to each ear before serving with lime wedges.
Steamed Corn 101
Courtesy of Tyler Renkert, home cook from Newtown
Ears of corn (as many as you want to serve)
½ teaspoon salt (optional; based on the amount of boiling water)Directions:
Take a large 8-10 quart pot with a steamer insert inside. Put enough water in the pot to get a good rolling boil just beneath the insert; the goal is to not boil the corn, but to steam it. If preferred, salt the water. Once the water is boiling at its peak, place ears of corn, sans husk, into the steamer insert and cover. The water will cease boiling for a couple of minutes but leave the heat on high.
Once the water boils again and steam begins to wisp from under the lid, turn off the heat. Do not cook the corn, with the heat on, for more than 2 minutes; all flavors will leave with the superheated steam. The key to good corn on the cob is to understand you're not cooking it; you're warming it. The more heat you put into the corn the less flavor it will have and a coarser texture will occur. The sooner you remove the corn from the heat and plate it the better.
Now, roll the corn on a stick of butter and salt as needed, eat, and repeat!
Tyler’s Favorite Grilled Corn|
Courtesy of Tyler Renkert, home cook from Newtown
(The idea is to steam the corn in its husk)
Corn on the cob (two ears per person)
Place corn into a bucket or sink full of fresh, cold water with the complete husk on and intact.
Start your gas or charcoal grill, as long as you have indirect 275-350 degree heat. Make sure no direct flames lap at the husk. Once the grill is up to temperature, grab the husked ears of corn and place them on the grill grate.
Close the cover and retain heat or leave it open. The idea is to heat the husk and steam the corn with the moisture inside the husk. Remember, the key is to warm it, not cook it.
Turn (or roll) the corn over until all sides of the husk have wilted and have some darker color to them, about 10-15 minutes.
When done, the corn will stay warm for about 30 minutes inside the husk. Be careful — it will be very hot! When ready to eat, husk the corn, plate it, butter it, and eat.
Mexican Street Corn
Courtesy of bartaco in Westport
Yellow corn ears (2 pieces per serving)
Elote mayo (mayo, sour cream, lime juice, ancho powder, kosher salt, cayenne) — to taste
Grated cotija cheese — to taste
Cayenne — to taste
Lime wedges, for garnish
Remove husks and silk from corn. If you find any irregular pieces, break them off and discard. Cook corn on a medium-high grill, rotating regularly, until lightly charred.
Remove corn from grill, then trim ends and cut each ear in half. Each ear should measure 3-to-3 ½ inches.
Brush all kernels with elote mayo. Coat thoroughly with cotija cheese. Sprinkle lightly with cayenne and garnish with a lime wedge.
Tarragon Butter Corn
Courtesy of Tyler Renkert, home cook from Newtown
Renkert says: “This is my special way to make corn At my house, corn prepared this way seldom lasts before I get it plated on people's dishes.”
Corn on the cob (8-12 ears)
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
6 tablespoons butter
Half of one lime, juiced (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Take your corn on the cob and husk it. Take some corn oil and brush liberally on each ear, then salt and pepper to taste. Place the oiled corn on the cob directly on the heated grill, over medium heat (low flame for gas grill; small fire for charcoal grill), and very lightly char the kernels on all sides over direct heat, about 5 to 6 minutes, max. Remove corn from the heat and bring inside to rest.
Once the cobs have cooled enough to handle, cut the corn kernels from the cob and place in a large bowl. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, melt the butter and add the tarragon. [Optional: Add the juice of half of a lime to butter and tarragon mixture].
Pour butter-tarragon sauce over corn in a bowl then toss for 5 to 10 seconds until coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.