Charlie asked Lauren:
I read your column, this past week, on cooking fresh corn after the kernels have been cut off the cob. Oddly, my kids don’t like corn that way and will only eat corn when cooked and served on the cob, which I do often, during the summer months. I have always cooked corn simply, submerging the cleaned ears in boiling water and then I dress them with melted butter and some salt. I’m wondering if you could give me another way to cook corn on the cob, so it tastes more exciting. Also, is clarified butter or the regular kind the right choice for serving with corn on the cob? I’m not sure what one uses clarified butter for other than pan-frying.
Well, although the way you’ve been cooking fresh corn is essentially “perfect” and sometimes, (as the old saying goes, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”…) since it’s so easy to make fresh corn on the cob taste unusually savory and exciting, why not go for it! First, let’s stay where you are, for the moment, in a pot of boiling liquid. Why just use water when you can use broth? Submerge the cleaned corn into hot vegetable or chicken stock and cover the pot. Cook the corn on medium heat for 5 minutes, and then reduce the heat to low and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn off the pot and let the corn cobs sit there for another few minutes, just to let them absorb more of the broth’s goodness. Remove the cobs, using tongs, and serve them hot, with softened butter and salt. (Or, fold some minced chives into softened butter, and use that to spread on the cooked corn.) And don’t worry about wasting the broth. Just let it cool and either refrigerate for a few days and use it for something else (like rice or soup) or freeze it until needed.
If you’ve never grilled fresh corn on the cob, you’re in for a treat!
All you do is pull back the outer husks on your corn, pull off and discard all strands of corn-silk and rinse the corn with cold running water. Allow any water that clings to the corn to remain, then simply pull the outer husks back up around the corn and scrunch the top shut with a bit of aluminum foil. Then, grill the corn, over direct heat, over hot coals, turning occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Then, use tongs to transfer the ears to a platter and serve the corn that way, passing some softened butter and a dish of Kosher or sea salt, at the table. (Alternatively, if you purchase corn that has already had the husks and silk totally or partially removed, take off any silk and husk and wrap the wet corn in aluminum foil, dull side out).
Now, to get things even better, you can season the corn before grilling! Melt some butter and, when hot and bubbling, you could season the butter with curry, cumin or crumbled dried oregano, or with a piquant Cajun spice blend. Or, add some minced garlic or minced fresh chives or scallions and sauté these additions in the butter, until softened and fragrant. Then add salt and pepper to taste. Another way to “shake things up,” flavor-wise, is to add a shot or two of your favorite hot sauce to the melted butter. Then, just brush the exposed corn kernels with this seasoned mixture, wrap up the ears and grill them, as previously described.
If you don’t have a grill, who cares? You can just roast the seasoned corn on a preheated shallow baking sheet (preheat the oven to 450F and roast the wrapped corn for about 15 minutes). You can also sear the wrapped corn on a hot stove top grill pan. After about 8 minutes, occasionally turning the cobs, you’ll then lower the heat and place an inverted, heatproof bowl over the corn and continue to cook until tender, about 5 minutes more.
As far as using clarified butter to grill fresh corn or to serve with corn, this is not the best choice, and for several reasons. First, when cooking corn on the grill, you’ll get the best (most savory) flavor, if the corn becomes somewhat caramelized in random spots. Since the milk solids in “whole” (not clarified) butter are heat sensitive, these milk solids will encourage browning sooner in the cooking process, thus giving you great color and flavor, without having to overcook the corn.
Clarified butter is also not my first choice to brush on freshly cooked ears of corn simply because it’s not as rich-tasting as whole butter. Clarified butter is a great choice for certain cooking procedures, like when shallow pan-frying foods. As when using oil, clarified butter can withstand a longer time over high heat before burning and because of its buttery flavor, it adds an extra flavor dimension to pan-fried foods. Also, because of it’s clarity (after removing the milk solids), some feel that clarified butter makes the most esthetically appealing “dip” to use for cooked lobster or steamed clams. I, however, once again, vote for the more luxurious texture and “full” taste of whole butter. (By the way, clarified butter is also not ever recommended as a substitute when baking.)
And, for those of you looking to omit the butter entirely when cooking and serving fresh corn, just use best-quality, extra-virgin olive oil (or better yet, use my Garlic Confit Oil), when making the scampi mixture or when seasoning at the table.
So, for all of you who love corn served “the old fashioned way,” Here’s an official recipe for Corn on the Cob, a delish side dish that should make you very happy.