Corn and pepper soup. (Photo and styling by John…)
Sweet corn is at its seasonal peak, and its abundance is a great (and inexpensive) reason to get cooking.
Sweet corn has a place in every cookout this time of year, whether in a salad, a side dish or, more likely, on the cob with butter and salt and pepper (or better yet, Old Bay).
Jesse Albright, general manager at Albright farms in Monkton, sells sweet corn at the Fells Point Farmers' Market for $6 a dozen and offers preservation techniques for those of us who like to have a little bit of summer during the winter months. "Have you ever frozen corn?" he asks. "Just blanch it in hot water for 2-3 minutes, shock it in ice water and then cut it off the cob. Put the kernels into a plastic freezer bag and put them in the freezer."
Corn is also a favorite of local chefs for its flavor as well as versatility in recipes, but it's at home where they enjoy it the most.
"It's a more Southern style, it's the way my grandmother used to do it" says Sajin Renae, executive chef at Fork and Wrench in Canton, of her method. "Blanch the corn 2 to 3 minutes in a mix of water and buttermilk to barely cook it, then I hit it with butter, salt and chipotle powder. I grill it and finish it with lime juice, cilantro and queso fresco. The buttermilk brings out the sweetness," she says.
Dan Hill, executive chef at West End Grill in Annapolis, takes a similarly simple approach to sweet corn. "I would have to say my favorite thing to do with corn at home is to grill it then make a mush out of it, so on the grill elevated off the heat," on the second tier. He says he's "constantly rolling the corn so it gets an even brown, cutting it off the cob, chopping it up a bit [then] throwing in a couple pats of butter, green onion and fresh tomato. Hitting it with some sea salt and some pepper and, if I am feeling squirrelly, a dash of cream sherry. That, to me, is the essence of Maryland."
Corn is cheap. Buy as much as you can so you can freeze the leftovers for winter, when you will be wishing for bright richness of sweet corn. Or experiment with new preparations like these.
Summery creamed corn
Creamed corn is usually reserved for the fall and winter months because it is heavy and fatty from the cream and butter. This recipe, however, has neither of those ingredients and still maintains a rich and creamy texture by using the natural thickening of the corn itself. When you heat the corn puree, the cornstarch present in the corn creates a custard-like base for the fresh corn kernels that is sweet, full of body and contains no extra fat. It's served cold and will become a hit at your next cookout. Be sure to whisk the puree while it cooks. It will burn if left unattended.
Makes: 4 servings
12 ears sweet corn, shucked and kernels cut off
1/2 cup water
1 five-inch-long sprig of rosemary, finely minced (approximately 1 tablespoon)
2 teaspoons salt
fresh ground black pepper, 10 turns of a grinder set to fine
Place half of the corn kernels (six ears' worth) into a blender with the water. Puree until smooth. Transfer corn puree into a medium saucepan along with the rosemary, salt and pepper. While continuously whisking over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Turn off the burner and add the other half of the corn. Let the mixture cool and then refrigerate. Serve cool.
Tip: If you would like to serve this hot, cut the salt and rosemary in half.
Corn and pepper soup
This is my go-to summer corn soup. It has a lot going on: sweet, salty, creamy and crunchy. The key is roasting the corn and the peppers over your stove's burner. It might sound a bit scary at first, but it's no more complicated than burning your food (on purpose this time) over the burners. You will totally char the skin of the peppers from top to bottom, but for the corn, try to char 50 percent of it at most. A little more or less won't affect the final product too much, so don't get too fussy. The addition of cheese and tortilla chips at the end will add salt, so be sure to add 1-2 more teaspoons of salt if you are not adding them at the end.
Makes: 8 servings
1/2 stick of butter
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
1 medium onion, medium dice
4 Anaheim peppers
2 poblano peppers
5 ears of sweet corn
3 cups of milk
3 cups of chicken stock (you can use vegetable)
2 sprigs of fresh oregano, chopped
1 small bunch of thyme, chopped (approximately 1 tablespoon)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Tortilla chips, crushed
Shredded cheddar cheese