Growing up in New Jersey, I was familiar with two kinds of corn: The kind that came frozen in a box and was eaten all winter, and the kind that came on the cob and was an end-of-summer treat. Until I was about 10 years old, I honestly thought these were two different vegetables, so completely at odds were they in looks and taste.
Then, one fateful August night, my dad noticed one of my sisters struggling to eat corn on the cob with her brand-new braces. He ran into the kitchen and returned to the dining room with a knife and a bowl. Holding her ear of corn upright inside the bowl, he proceeded to slice the kernels away from the cob for easier eating. You could have knocked me over with a feather. The contents of the bowl looked just like the stuff we ate in the winter, but tasted like corn on the cob.
The revelation that farm-fresh August corn could be removed from the cob would eventually lead me to try a variety of recipes made with this delicacy. In summers past, I have enjoyed corn and tomato salsa, corn pudding, fresh corn muffins and succotash. Recently, when the weather report predicted extreme heat and humidity, I had a craving for chilled corn soup.
I knew I'd have to turn on the cooktop to make the soup, but that didn't worry me. I made it in the morning, so the soup and I both had plenty of time to chill before dinner. To begin, I stripped the kernels from a half-dozen ears of corn. I sauteed an onion in a little butter and then added the kernels, a potato (for body) and water (chicken broth overwhelms the delicate flavor of the corn), cooking the mixture briefly before puréeing the soup in batches in a blender. The final step of pressing the puree through a fine strainer seemed like a pain, but was worth it for the velvety result.
There are several ways to prevent the kernels from flying in every direction as you slice them from the cob. Work over a bowl as my dad did. Or balance the stem end of the cob on the narrow end of the tube of a Bundt pan and slice the kernels right into the pan. Or line a rimmed baking sheet with a clean kitchen towel (which will prevent the kernels from bouncing off the sheet and onto the floor) and work on top of the sheet. You can buy a special kitchen tool, called a corn stripper, to help with the task, but a serrated bread knife or sharp chef's knife works just as well.
Another way to prevent fresh corn from splattering when you're cutting it off the cob is to first blanch the ears for a minute or two in boiling water. Let cool.
Chilled corn soup
Garnish with dollops of sour cream, bacon bits and/or chopped chives if you'd like. Or float some cold cooked shrimp, crabmeat or lobster meat in each bowl with some chopped avocado to transform this soup into a light main course.
6 ears fresh corn, husked
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1. Remove kernels from corn cobs with a sharp knife.
2. Heat butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, 3 to 5 minutes.
3. Add corn kernels, 4 cups of water, potato, cayenne and 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 15 minutes.
4. Puree soup in batches in a blender and then press through a fine strainer into a bowl. Season with salt, if necessary, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, at least 5 hours and up to 1 day. Makes 4 to 6 servings.