Corn on the cob is available almost the year round, but there's no doubt that it's best during the season that practically is synonymous with fresh corn -- summer.
Not all corn is table-ready. Basically, there are several classifications, including popcorn, field corn, ornamental corn and sweet corn. Popcorn kernels burst open when exposed to heat. Field corn is used for animal feed or dried for hominy. It also is ground to make masa harina, which is used for corn tortillas and tamales. Ornamental is the multicolored dried corn that is used in decorations.
Sweet corn, which stores more sugar than starch, is what is marketed as corn on the cob.
Fresh corn on the cob can be steamed, boiled, oven-roasted or grilled. Fresh corn kernels can be added to soups, salads, vegetable stir-fry, fritters and relishes; creamed; or folded into savory puddings or souffles.
In the market or at the roadside stand, pick ears that feel full and heavy for their size; kernels should be relatively small and milky when pierced and silk should be moist without any signs of drying or decay.
If possible, pick ears of corn that have not had most of the pale green husks and the silk removed. That's because these wrappers naturally keep the corn from drying out, whether on a produce shelf or in the refrigerator. Untrimmed corn is often called "barbecue corn" and sometimes sells for a cheaper price, anyway. Do not remove husk and silk until ready to cook.
To store, keep fresh corn in the refrigerator in a plastic bag and use as soon as possible.
When sweet corn is picked, the sugar content begins rapidly converting to starch, so it is advisable to cook corn as soon as possible after purchase.
To prepare corn, remove husks and silk from fresh corn if steaming or boiling. To oven-roast or grill, peel back husks but leave attached. Remove silk and replace husk, tying it shut at the tip with string. Soak in cold water 30 minutes to moisten husk, then roast or grill. Or, remove husk and silk, butter ears and wrap in foil and roast or grill.
When facing a counter brimming with ears of corn, how can you tell which ones are freshest? Here's the insider wisdom from corn sellers at farmers' markets around the country as reported by Judith Olney in "The Farm Market Cookbook."
"Pull the shuck back and press a fingertip gently on the kernels. If the kernel gives slightly under pressure it should mean sweet, juicy corn. Harder, less yielding kernels have not had a chance to ripen and develop sugar content."
Talk about gilding the lily, the late food writer James Beard
would cook fresh corn, remove the kernels from the cob, let them cool a bit and gently fold the corn into unsweetened whipped cream.
Here are some other ways to prepare corn:
Corn on the cob I
To cook corn on the cob on range top: When pot of water is boiling, drop in husked corn and cook 3 minutes for al dente (firm to the bite but without raw texture) and 5 minutes for tender-cooked.
Corn on the cob II
1 ear of corn per person (or more, if guests demand it)
plenty of butter
Bring enough water to boil to more than cover corn when it is added to kettle. Add 1 tablespoon of salt for each quart of water.
Remove husks from corn and clean. Drop corn into boiling water and return to boil. Turn off heat immediately and let corn stand in water 5 minutes.
Serve with salt and butter.
Corn on the cob III
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
This is another variation on corn on the cob, a regional recipe from "The Chesapeake Bay Cookbook," by John Shields (Addison Wesley Publishing Co.).
A common error in cooking corn on the cob is cooking it too long. This recipe calls for 10 to 15 minutes. Test the corn for doneness at 5 minutes or less.
NTC 4 to 6 ears sweet corn
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter, plus melted butter for accompaniment
salt and black pepper for accompaniment
Husk corn and set aside. In pot large enough to hold corn, combine ample salted water, milk, sugar and 2 tablespoons butter. Bring to boil and add corn. Cook over medium heat 10 to 15 minutes or until as tender as you like. Serve with melted butter, salt and pepper.
Corn on the cob IV
Makes 4 to 8 servings.
Here is a version with an herb-wine sauce from "The Hay Day Cookbook," a collection of recipes from Hay Day country farm markets in Connecticut.
8 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1 tablespoon each fresh thyme and rosemary
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Plunge corn into boiling water and cook for 3 minutes after water returns to boil. Drain well. Arrange ears in shallow dish.
Melt butter in saucepan. Whisk in lemon juice, wine, herbs and seasonings. Whisk until light and creamy. Pour over hot corn, turning ears to coat thoroughly.
Serve at once very hot.
Kent County corn pudding
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
This recipe for an easy-to-prepare savory pudding is from "The Chesapeake Bay Cookbook," by John Shields (Addison Wesley Publishing Co.).
2 cups fresh sweet corn kernels (cut from about 5 ears) coarsely chopped
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon grated onion
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Heat oven to 325 degrees. In bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Pour mixture into well-buttered 1-quart baking dish. Bake about 1 hour, or until set.
This recipe is from "The New York Times Cookbook," by Craig Claiborne (Harper & Row).
6 ears of corn
2 tablespoons butter
2 green onions, trimmed and sliced
2 tablespoons chopped green pepper
1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Cut corn kernels from cobs. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and add corn, green onions and green pepper. Cook for 3 minutes.
Add tomato, salt and pepper. Cover and cook for 5 minutes or until corn is tender. Stir in remaining butter and serve.