Vegetables

Corn on the Cob – How to Get the Best Ears at Your Market, and Cook Them Up Right

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I loveloveloveLOVE August. It’s the best month in upstate NY for fresh produce. One of my favorites has always been corn on the cob, and as a kid I always asked for it for my birthday dinner. I remember well the year I was missing my 2 front teeth – I was so upset that I wouldn’t be able to eat my corn! My Grampa painstakingly cut all the kernels off for me with his knife, so I could eat it with a spoon. Only after I grew up & tried a recipe that called for fresh corn off the cob, did I realize how impressive it was that he performed the feat without losing a single kernel! Much to our dog Penny’s disappointment, I’m sure. So trust me, a lifelong corn aficionado, when I tell you it’s a crime to overcook corn. Please, don’t dump it in a pot of water, wait a half hour for the water to get hot, and then cook it for another half hour. You’ll just end up with flavorless, starchy stuff. If you must use a pot, get the water hot first, then carefully dunk the corn in for a minute. Literally – pull it back out after 60-90 seconds. I usually use a skillet, with about a half inch of water. Bring it to a boil, lay the corn in the water (on its side), & cover, cooking for jut 60-90 seconds. When I’m cooking corn for a crowd, I use a pasta pot – the kind with the insert you can lift out. I put the corn in the insert, the insert in the pot, then add water. This way, you know you’re not overfilling the pot. (Steaming doesn’t work as well with a full pot, because not enough of the surface area is exposed). Lift the insert with the corn out & set aside while you bring the water to a boil. THEN put the corn in. You still only need a couple of minutes, just long enough for the corn to get hot. You’ll thank me when you discover how tasty corn can really be. If you think you don’t really like corn, try cooking it my way & see if you change your mind.

Part of the key to really good corn on the cob is, well, really good corn. If you get immature, over-mature, or ears that were picked several days ago, you’re not gonna be as happy with your corn. Contrary to popular belief, it is not at all necessary to strip the husk back to look at the kernels. Please don’t do that. If you do buy it, it won’t be quite as fresh when you cook it (for the same reason, ignore the big trash can some places put in their shop. Take it home in its natural wrapper.) If you decide to buy a different ear, you’ve spoiled that one for the next customer, or added to the number of “unsellable” ears that end up going to waste. Farmers work long, difficult hours to bring you fresh food. It’s just not right to damage it!

Here’s how to tell a fresh, properly ripe ear of corn. 

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First off, see those wonky dark green leaves that stick out? They should not be brown & dried up, and they absolutely should not be missing. That’s what some sellers do when the ear starts to brown – they remove the outer husk to show the fresher-looking next layer. If the ear has only a couple of layers of husk, you know it’s been sitting around for a while. Next have a good, close-up look at the silk of the ear on the left. Right where it disappears into the husk, it’s that pretty spring green. If all the silk is brown & dry, the ear is older. Now don’t get me wrong, “older” isn’t  always the same as “bad.” Some of the newer hybrids keep quite well in the fridge for several days. Me, I like to get the freshest stuff I can find. I’ll admit to being spoiled by having had it growing in my own field, where we’d pick it off the stalk, shuck it right there & just drop the husks, carry it to the kitchen & cook it right away! Have I mentioned how much I love living in the country?

The other thing I like to look for is young ears. The more corn matures, the fatter the ears get. The really fat ones are nearly always starchy & flavorless. The one on the left was pushing the envelope a bit, but the other two are exactly as I like them – nice & slender. 

You can tell a lot by feel, too. Now, don’t go mashing on them, you’ll crush the kernels. Press with your fingertips about as hard as you would on a baby’s arm – gently. It should feel kind of like your forehead – soft with a little “give,” but quite firm beneath. If it feels softer, it’s probably over-mature. If the top feels “empty,” you’re probably looking at an ear that didn’t get completely germinated. The top part won’t really have any full kernels. That’s okay, the rest will be good, but you’re really only getting half an ear.

Don’t shuck it until right before cooking, and don’t overcook it. Enjoy!

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