Corn: An American Original

So versatile, corn is perhaps the New World’s most generous crop. Use these tips to prepare this healthy side.

Symbol of Summer

Corn is at its peak from May through September. Unlike some fruits and vegetables that ripen and improve with time off the plant, corn always tastes best freshly plucked from the stalk. Though corn is now bred to stay sweet longer, the sugars in corn will begin to break down and turn to starch immediately after being picked. This is why roadside farm stands usually have the best corn!

How to Choose Your Corn

  • Look for ears that have some heft for their size; good weight can mean the center hasn’t been eaten away by bugs or fungus.
  • Look for moist, bright green husks clutching tightly to the ear and healthy (not dry) silk protruding at the top.
  • To check out the condition of the kernels, don’t yank down the husks–it dries out the corn and leaves it susceptible to fungus (and annoys the grocer or farmer); instead, feel around the silk end to make sure the kernels are plump and healthy all the way to the tip.

Plus: Grilled Corn in Husks

Ah, Shucks! Tips for Preparing Corn

  • When grilling corn, first pull back the husks and remove the silk, then return the husks to cover the kernels. Soak the ears in water for about 30 minutes before placing the corn on the hot grill.
  • Corn cooks quickly. Cook corn until the cob gives slightly when pierced with a knife but is not soft. Boiled corn (husked, with the silk removed) cooks in 2 to 3 minutes. Steamed corn takes about 10 minutes.
  • To remove the kernels, run a sharp knife down along the cob (it might be easier to cut the cob in half first), taking the kernels off in rows, being careful not to cut into the cob. Special tools–“corn zippers”–can also do the job.

Corn’s Flavor Companions

Grown to be sweet and tender, fresh corn is a tremendous flavor-pairing partner. Its original flavor companions remain some of the best: chile peppers, beans and tomatoes. To this list, we can add butter, cheese, limes, cream, and fresh herbs. Fresh corn can be added to soups, stews, salsas, salads, breads, pancakes and puddings.

Children of the Corn

When treated with lye, which removes the skin around the kernels, corn becomes hominy. Dried and ground, hominy becomes grits. Cornmeal is coarsely ground corn, which is used in polenta. Cornstarch, a more finely ground meal, thickens sauces, stews and gravies. Corn flour, or masa, is made into tortillas, chips and taco shells.

Plus: Chipotle Corn and Avocado Dip

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest