Come the end of summer, Long Island corn achieves almost religious dimensions. On weekends, the roads are jammed with Nassau and Western Suffolk residents making pilgrimages to hallowed farms in the East. Weekly farmers markets, where growers bring their wares West, resemble revival tents full of exultant shoppers. (For a list of farmers markets, go to nwsdy.li/Z39MUw.) True believers are happy to eat corn daily through mid-September.
Here's everything you need to know to make the most of this summer ritual.
BUYING AND STORING
At the height of the local corn season, it behooves you to buy local corn at a farmers market or farm stand. Tempting as it is to strip the husks to inspect the corn, restrain yourself; you're damaging the goods. Instead, buy ears that feel heavy for their size. You should be able to feel plump, tight kernels through the husk. The stem should look moist and newly cut. Once you get home, try to cook corn as soon as possible. If you're waiting more than a few hours, store in the refrigerator. Shuck at the last minute.
Unless you're boiling or steaming the corn, you needn't remove all the husks. In fact, a thin layer of husk amplifies the flavor and protects the corn from overcooking. Here's my method for "semi-shucking" an ear of corn: Peel off the first few layers of husk and then break off the stem. Grasp the silks with one hand and yank them out of the husk as best you can. Continue peeling off husks until there are only a few pale layers left covering the silk. With a sturdy knife, cut through the stem where it meets the base of the ear, then trim the top so the remaining husks are flush with the tip of the ear.
To quickly dispatch one or two ears, you can't beat the microwave. Semi-shuck the corn and place in the microwave. If you're cooking multiple ears, make sure there's at least an inch of space between them. Timing varies with the size, age and variety of the corn and the power of your oven, but a good guide, for a 1050-watt oven, is 1 ear: 2 minutes; 2 ears: 3 to 4 minutes; 3 ears: 4 to 6 minutes; 4 ears, 6 to 8 minutes. Allow the corn to rest in the microwave for a few minutes before serving. (If your microwave doesn't have a rotating carousel, rearrange the corn midway through cooking.)
If the corn is very fresh -- and basically only needs to be heated up -- place shucked ears directly over a medium-high grill and cook for 3 to 6 minutes, turning frequently so they don't burn. Grill semi-shucked corn over medium-high heat for 8 to 10 minutes, turning the ears every few minutes so the husks don't burn. You also can grill unshucked ears of corn, but it will take closer to 30 minutes for them to be done.
Place a shucked ear of corn on a piece of aluminum foil about 8 inches across -- you don't want to wrap it in multiple layers of foil. Brush the corn with melted butter or olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper (and a little lime juice if you want). Wrap the ear with foil and make about 5 lengthwise slits. Grill over medium-high heat for 8 to 10 minutes.
Shuck the corn. Bring a large pot of unsalted water to boil. You'll need at least 4 quarts for 4 ears, more water for more corn. When water boils, add corn and cover pot. When water comes back to the boil, take pot off the heat. Depending on size, age and variety -- and how you soft you like your corn -- it should be done in 3 to 5 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Semi-shuck the corn and place directly onto the oven rack. Cook for about 20 minutes. That's it. (If you're cooking something else at anywhere from 350 to 450 degrees, you'll be fine; just adjust the timing accordingly.)
Bring an inch of water to boil in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Place shucked corn in a steamer basket and steam for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on size, age and variety of corn. If you don't have a steamer basket, you can stand the corn up in a pot so the bases of the ears are submerged.
MEXICAN STREET CORN
Adapted from a recipe by Brian Cruey in Edible Berkshires, Summer 2014 issue
6 ears corn, shucked
Extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup crema or crème fraîche (see note)
2 tablespoons cayenne, or to taste
½ cup cotija cheese or Parmesan (see note)
1. If the corn is very fresh, brush with olive oil and grill over medium-high heat for 3 to 6 minutes, turning frequently so it doesn't burn. Otherwise, precook corn, then brush with olive oil and give a final char on the grill.
2. Spread crema on a large plate and, when corn is done, roll each ear to completely coat.
3. Rotating each ear, sprinkle it generously with the cayenne and cheese. Finally, squeeze some lime on each ear and garnish with chopped cilantro. Makes 6 servings.
Note: Crema, Mexican sour cream, and cotija, a salty Mexican grating cheese, are available at bodegas (Hispanic groceries) or supermarkets such as Bravo or C-Town that serve the Latin community.
LIME-THYME SAUTEED CORN
This recipe is very flexible: Substitute a clove or two of garlic for the shallot, tarragon for the thyme, lemon for the lime.
1 large lime
6 ears of corn, shucked
4 to 5 tablespoons olive oil
10 to 15 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon pimentón dulce (sweet Spanish paprika)
1 large shallot, finely minced
Salt and pepper
1. With a sharp grater, remove zest from lime. Cut zested lime in half and juice. Reserve zest and juice.
2. Stand each ear of corn up on its base and, with a sharp knife, cut down from tip to remove kernels. (Do this in a wide, shallow bowl or place corn in the center of a Bundt pan to prevent kernels going all over the kitchen.)
3. Combine olive oil, thyme sprigs, pimentón and shallot in a 12-inch skillet. Saute over medium-low heat until shallots soften but do not brown, about 5 minutes.
4. Add corn and half of lime juice and turn heat to high. Season with salt and pepper and saute, stirring frequently, until corn is cooked through, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and pick out thyme sprigs. (If desired, strip off the tiny leaves and add back to corn.) Add lime zest. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt, pepper and lime juice, as needed. Makes 6 servings.