Corn is summer's valedictory vegetable, bidding the season farewell as it heralds the coming of fall. And what a season it's been. "This is the best corn harvest I can remember," said Peter Meyer, a fourth-generation owner of Meyer's Farms in Woodbury. "It's been hot and sunny, which is what you want. When there's too much rain, the water flushes out the sugar in the corn and it just tastes blah."
In addition to 61/2 acres in Woodbury, Meyer's family also has 35 acres of corn at its 75-acre Calverton farm. The weather there has been just as fair. Jeff Rottkamp, owner of Rottkamp's Fox Hollow Farm in Calverton, reported that his corn is particularly delicious this year. "It's been some good corn weather. The more sunlight it gets, the more the corn's starch gets converted to sugar."
Corn farmers start planting in April, and the season's peak begins in mid-August and goes through mid-September. Meyer expects to have corn through early November, but advises his customers to get their fill now. "It just doesn't get better than this."
Here are some tips and recipes to help you make the most of this year's corn crop.
BUYING AND STORING: 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.
PREPPING: 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 a good method for "semi-shucking" an ear of corn: Feel through the husk to locate where the stem meets the cob and use a sharp knife to cut off the stem. Make another cut through the husk just above the tip of the cob. Now peel off the dark green layers of husk until you only have a few pale layers covering the silk.
ROASTING: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Semi-shuck the corn (see above) 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.)
MICROWAVING: To quickly dispatch one or two ears, you can't beat the microwave. Semi-shuck the corn (see above) 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 a few minutes before serving. (If your microwave doesn't have a rotating carousel, rearrange the corn midway through cooking.)
BOILING: 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 soft you like your corn -- it should be done in 3 to 5 minutes.
STEAMING: Bring an inch of water to boil in a large pot with a tightfitting 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, leave a bit of stem on each ear and stand them up in the bottom of the pot so the ears are about the water.
GRILLING: 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. Or, to add a little flavor, 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.
BASIL BUTTER FOR GRILLED CORN
This compound butter is a great way to snazz up plain grilled corn.
1 stick butter
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Soften butter by leaving it at room temperature for 1 to 3 hours (depending on the temperature of your kitchen). With a spoon, mix the basil into the softened butter until well integrated. Form the butter into a log and wrap with plastic wrap. Store in refrigerator until needed, and slice to serve. Makes 12 servings.
Recipe credit: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)
MEXICAN STREET CORN
Adapted from a recipe by Brian Cruey in Edible Berkshires, Summer 2014 issue
6 ears corn, shucked
Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup crema or crème fraîche (see note)
2 tablespoons cayenne, or to taste
1/2 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 Hispanic groceries or supermarkets, such as Bravo or C-Town, that serve the Latin community.
CORN CHOWDER WITH SUNFLOWER SEEDS AND ONIONS
No fresh corn handy? You can substitute a 16-ounce bag of frozen kernels, but you'll need to roast them for 25 to 30 minutes.
5 to 6 ears of corn, husked
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with olive oil cooking spray.
2. One at a time, stand each ear of corn on its wide end and use a serrated knife to saw down the length of each side to remove the kernels. Reserve 1/2 cup of the kernels, then spread the remaining kernels on the prepared baking sheet. Mist the corn with additional olive oil cooking spray, then roast, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly browned in spots.
3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the sunflower seeds, onion and thyme, then cook, stirring often, until the sunflowers seeds are lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes.
4. Transfer half the onion and sunflower seed mixture to a blender. Add the roasted corn and chicken broth. Puree until very smooth. Taste, then season with salt and pepper.
5. Transfer to a large saucepan and heat over medium until hot. Stir in the reserved sunflower seeds and onions. Ladle into serving bowls, then top with a sprinkle of the reserved raw corn kernels. Makes 4 servings.
Recipe credit: AP
BLISTERED CORN SALAD
Grilling fresh corn until the kernels are blistered and the natural sugars are caramelized makes this salad burst with flavor. This little bit of effort makes all the difference in this colorful summer recipe.
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2/3 cup olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons, divided
Kosher salt and ground pepper
8 ears of corn
1/2 cup diced Spanish onion
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions (about 1 bunch)
1/2 cup minced jalapeño peppers
1 cup chopped heirloom tomatoes or quartered cherry tomatoes
1 to 2 tablespoons mixed minced fresh herbs, such as chives, basil, cilantro and parsley
1. Heat the grill to medium-high.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar and mustard. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the 2/3 cup of oil until the mixture is smooth and emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
3. Husk the ears of corn, then brush them all over with the 2 tablespoon of olive oil. Set the ears directly over the heat on the grill and cook, turning occasionally, until all sides are blistered and lightly charred, 15 to 20 minutes. Set the corn aside until cool enough to be easily handled.
4. Cut the kernels from the ears of corn. To do this, one at a time cut each ear in half across the center. Stand each piece on its wide, cut end and use a very sharp knife to cut down the length of the cob, cutting just deep enough to remove the kernels. Rotate and continue cutting until all of the kernels have been removed.
5. In a large bowl, toss the warm corn kernels with the vinaigrette. Add the remaining ingredients, mix well, then set aside to cool to room temperature. Before serving, taste and season with salt and pepper, if needed. Makes 8 serving.
Recipe credit: AP