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Make the Most of Summer Corn

Make the most of summer corn with these tips and recipes from Nancy Lowell. Find more delicious things on her blog, Chef’s Last Diet.


Wait, stop abusing your summer corn! The first of the local corn is starting to arrive in the northern parts of the USA, and if you’re anything like me you wait all year for it. I love corn, and if you’re lucky you can buy it the day it was picked, but that’s not enough to make sure it tastes as good as it can. I’m going to tell you everything you need to know to up your corn game.

Make the Most of Summer Corn

From the moment it’s picked the sugar in the corn starts converting to starch, losing that crisp, sweetness that makes it so wonderful. Shucking it and exposing it to the air accelerates that process as does even peeking to see if an ear meets your standards. I never open an ear of corn to peek, and I rarely get a bad one. Occasionally there will be an end that’s not beautiful, but I just cut that off. I only buy corn the day I plan to eat it. If you can’t do that, leave the corn in the bag, rolled up to keep it dark. If it’s going to be more than 24 hours, put it in the refrigerator, but fair warning; the longer you wait the starchier your corn will be.

When I shop for corn I look for ears that have tassels that are brown and a little sticky. I feel the cob to make sure the kernels go all the way to the tip, and feel full and plump. In fact, overall plumpness is what you’re looking for, no skinny ears. You want husks that are tight around the ear, and don’t look dried out. I often wonder what people are looking for when they peek and what would make someone discard an ear short of finding a worm. I see people doing that all the time and I try not to scold them. When you do that no one else will buy that corn, so you’re just making garbage.

Once you’ve gotten your beautiful, plump corn home you need to continue to care for it until you put it on your plate and slather it with butter, salt and pepper. Don’t shuck it until just before you put it in the pot. And speaking of the pot, I have the perfect way to heat your corn, and if you use my method you’ll never overcook it.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Turn off the heat, and add one to two teaspoons of any (dairy) milk product to the pot. The lactose in the milk will bring out the sweetness of the corn much better than the old-school method of adding sugar. Put the corn into the pot and cover it. That’s it. Don’t turn the heat back on. The corn doesn’t need to cook; you just want to warm it enough to melt the butter. This will yield a crisp-sweet-tender ear of corn. The beauty of this is that you can leave the corn in this water for a while, so seconds will still be hot, and since the corn isn’t cooking it won’t get mushy.

I love leftover corn, so I always buy plenty of extra. Corn and tomatoes tossed with some scallions and mayonnaise make a nice salad. Who doesn’t love corn fritters or real creamed corn? And they freeze beautifully. I love cold corn soup, or corn chowder, and my father’s specialty, corn eggs made by cooking corn cut off the cob in some butter until it starts to brown, then lower the heat, add more butter and scramble your eggs just until they set.

Now that you’re an expert I hope you’ll become a Disciple of the Summer Corn, and spread the Gospel. Next time you see someone peeking at ear after ear in the grocery store, or farmers’ market share the good news!

Nancy Lowell

Nancy Lowell is a lifelong food lover/professional. She is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, with a passion for the beauty and flavor of life. Nancy is a world traveler, urban mom, with a humorous POV, taking on the world plate by plate.

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Friday 7th of August 2015

I didn't know any of this. I can't wait to show off my newfound knowledge and impress people with the ability to pick out corn. ;-)

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