Baby corn fresh picked is sweet and crunchy. You can eat it whole out of hand–yes, kernels and cob together, add it raw to salads, or cook it quickly in stir fries. Fresh baby corn among crudités is a summer-only delight.
But fresh-picked baby corn–not the baby corn out of a can swimming in a pan at the downtown salad bar–comes with a short window of opportunity; it must be had in mid-summer during just the one or two days after the silks of the corn cob emerge from the husk, called “silking”. After that, baby corn is on its way to becoming an adult.
You, no doubt, know baby corn when you see it. It's the finger-length corn that most often shows up in Thai and Chinese dishes. It looks like miniature corn on the cob. But baby corn does not come from dollhouse-sized corn plants; baby corn is harvested from standard varieties of sweet and field corn just after silking
Picked fresh baby corn is sweet, juicy and crunchy. Wait until the third or fourth day after the silks emerge from the ears and baby corn begins to grow starchy and hard and you then must wait another 20 to 50 days for pollinated ear to mature to full size and regain their sweet natural corn flavor and tenderness.
While canned baby corn is dull flavored–after all, baby corn for canning is most often grown in Asia, where the required hand picking is less costly, and must travel a distance to reach you, fresh-picked baby corn even stir fried will have full sweet corn flavor, the same flavor you catch when you rush fresh-picked full-size corn to the table minutes after harvest.
Serve and cooking. Here are some ideas for enjoying fresh-picked baby corn:
- Bring to the table raw just picked and serve alone or add to the crudités plate and serve with dip.
- Add raw to a green salad or mixed fresh-picked vegetables and top with vinaigrette.
- Roast lightly with sesame seed oil and toss in a rotini or penne pasta salad.
- Steam or stir fry a minute or two and it will retain its shape and flavor; never cook past tender-crunchy.
- Add cobs whole or cut on the diagonal to soups.
- Braise in a broth with whole baby bok choy and mushrooms and glaze before serving.
- Pickle in vinegar, water, salt, and dill and serve as a snack.
Choose. Select baby corn still in the husk to ensure it is still moist. Peel back the husk and look for small, full kernels in straight rows; the end should be tapered. Avoid baby corn whose kernels are sunken or wrinkled. Bright yellow baby corn will be sweet; white baby corn will be a bit starchier.
Store. Baby corn will keep in a loose plastic bag in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days, but is best served fresh.
Prepare. Before serving or cooking, carefully remove the husk and silks so as not to break or damage the ear. Trim away the stem end. Leave whole or cut on the diagonal.
Harvest your own. Pick baby corn 1 or 2 days after the silks emerge. The ideal ear will be 2 to 4 inches long and about ½ inches in diameter. Silking of corn ears occurs over a 2 to 4 week period on each plant. Harvest baby corn every 2 to 3 days during that time. If you want some ears on your corn plant to mature to full size, leave the ears at the top of the plant to gain maturity and harvest the ears below as baby corn.
Grow your own. Corn can take a significant amount of room to crop. Because baby corn is not grown to maturity, growing baby corn in the kitchen garden is quite doable; the plant does not grow to maturity. Plant corn for baby corn harvest as close as 18 to 24 inches apart.
Grow any variety of sweet or field corn for baby corn harvest. Some corn varieties are suited for baby corn harvest; these varieties never gain more than six feet in stature. Try ‘Little Indian', ‘Baby', ‘Golden Midget' (butter yellow kernels), ‘Glacier' (white kernels), ‘Miniature Hybrid', ‘Baby Asian', ‘Baby Blue' (blue kernels), Bo Peep (‘pink kernels'), and ‘Strawberry Popcorn'.
The botanical name of baby corn is Zea mays.