Here are the directions for serving sweet corn on the cob: First, place a large pot of water on to boil. Then rush to the garden plot and select the perfect ears—creamy and solid with little pearl kernels at the tips. Rush back to the kitchen and strip off the husks and rush the corn into the kettle. Let the corn boil six minutes then heap it on the platter, with a mound of butter and a big salt shaker nearby. Abandon conversation until everyone is full.
The best way to enjoy corn on the cob is to serve it within 20 minutes of picking. This is very doable if you are growing your own corn. It is also quite doable if you befriend a farmer and attend a “corn party” where fresh picked corn is served at picking time.
But if you do not grow corn or live close by a corn farm, then choose corn that has been picked in the last day or two. When you buy corn at the farm market, serve it the same day, but certainly not more than a day later.
Summer and early autumn is the season for fresh corn with August and September being the peak of the season in the Northern Hemisphere.
After corn is picked, its sugars begin a gradual conversion to starch which lessens its natural sweetness. That is why you will enjoy fresh picked corn the most.
Corn—which is also called maize—is not technically a vegetable, but a grass. It is certainly one of the most popular foods to have originated in the New World.
There are hundreds of cultivated varieties of corn. Generally, corn can be classified into three broad categories: field corn, popcorn, and sweet corn.
Field corn is used to feed animals and also is dried for hominy. Hominy grits is ground dried field corn simmered with water or milk until very thick. Field corn is also referred to as dent corn or flint corn. It is low in sugar and high in starch.
Popcorn is a kind of corn whose kernels burst open when exposed to heat. The natural moisture inside the hull of popcorn is what causes popcorn to pop open, turn inside out, and puff out when heated. Popcorn generally has small kernels.
Sweet corn is the kind of corn that you serve at the table. Sweet corn has pale yellow or white kernels, is tender, juicy, and sweet. Sweet corn comes on full-sized ears or as baby corn which can be eaten whole.
Sweet corn on the cob can be steamed, boiled, oven-roasted, and grilled or eaten out of hand without cooking. Sweet corn kernels can be make into corn soup or added to soups, salads, vegetable sautés, fritters, and relishes. Sweet corn also can be creamed and used in puddings or soufflés.
To serve whole sweet corn on the cob, strip off the outer leaves, leaving 2 to 3 inches of stalk on the ear, pull off the “silks” or tassels, boil in unsalted water, drain, and eat hot plain or with melted butter.
Sweet white corn is smaller and sweeter that yellow sweet corn. Sweet yellow corn has larger and fuller-flavored kernels.
Ears of corn grow on grass-like stalks that can reach 4 to 12 feet (1.2-3.6 m) tall. The ears of corn form on the side stalks about three-quarters of the way up.
The top of a corn stalk terminates in a flowering plume or tassel which is the pollen producing male flower. The pollen is carried by the wind and pollinates silky thread-like female flowers called silks or styles on ears lower down the stalk. Each of the silks is connected to an under fertilized kernel. The lower ears develop as many full kernels as the number of silks that are pollinated. Kernels of sweet corn can be yellow, white, black, red or a combination of colors. An ear of corn contains between 750 to 1,000 kernels.
Choose. Select corn with ears that are solid and plump and at least 6 inches (15 cm) long with husks that fit snugly. Husks should cover the entire ear and be green and fresh looking. The stem end should be moist. The silk end should be pale greenish-white and free of decay or worm injury.
Kernels should be full, plump, and firm and come all the way to the ear’s tip. You can test for juiciness by pressing on a kernel with your fingernail. If the corn is fresh, a milky juice will squirt out. The rows should be tightly spaced.
Avoid corn that has discolored or shriveled kernels or has worm holes. Dark and dried corn silks and dull or yellowed husks are a sign the corn is not fresh.
Avoid corn sold on displays exposed to direct sunlight or high temperatures. Heat accelerates the process of converting sugar to starch.
Baby Corn. Baby corn is corn harvested before it has matured. Baby corn is ready for harvest just before or just as the silks emerge. Eat baby corn whole, pickled, or use in salads or Asian cuisine.
Store. Sweet corn will keep in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 days. First plunge the freshly picked ears into ice water to slow the conversion of sugar in the kernels into starch. This will help preserve the sweetness. Store corn in its husk in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator.
Sweet corn can be stored in the freezer for 3 to 6 months: blanch on the cob; plunge into an ice bath; cut the kernels from the cob, and freeze.
Prepare. Strip off the husks and silks just before cooking.
- Shucking corn: Start at the small end of the cob and pull down a portion of husk toward the stalk end. Repeat until the husk is removed. Once the husk is removed, use your fingers or a vegetable brush to pull away as much of the silk as you can.
- Remove kernels from the cob using a sharp knife or a gadget made for removing kernels.
- Boil corn on the cob in unsalted water for 6 minutes. Do not let corn sit in the kettle of water after boiling. It will become soggy. Boiled corn that is not served immediately should be drenched in cold water at the end of boiling (to stop the kernels from cooking further), wrapped in aluminum foil, and reheated in the oven just before serving.
- Do not salt the water and do not overcook corn; both will cause the corn to harden and lose flavor.
- Simmer corn on the cob in unsalted water. Put the corn in just enough liquid to cover it and then bring it to a rolling boil; cover the pot and turn off the heat; allow the corn to simmer-cook in the water for 15 minutes. To flavor corn as it cooks add sugar, milk, broth, butter, or margarine.
- Sauté or stir-fry kernels over medium low heat for 10 to 15 minutes until they are tender and slightly browned around the edges.
- Roast or bake corn on the cob for 15 to 20 minutes in a preheated oven at 325º to 350º F (162-176º C) or over charcoal. Turn the ears occasionally so that they cook evenly.
- Before baking, you can shuck off the husk and clean the corn then coat the kernels with butter or margarine, rewrap the corn in the tender inner husks or in aluminum foil and place in a baking dish.
- Husked corn can be wrapped in aluminum foil before cooking in the oven or on the barbeque.
- Cook corn in a pressure cooker using 1 cup of water and cook for 3 to 5 minutes.
- Microwave corn on the cob for about 3 minutes on high power and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
Serve. Cook corn with or without the husk: boil, steam, bake, roast, barbeque, or microwave.
- Boil or steam corn quickly after picking and spread with plain butter or spice- or herb-flavored butter or olive oil.
- Cook corn on the cob in slightly sweetened water leaving a bit of husk and adding a little milk or beer to the cooking water. Immerse the ears in the boiling water and cook for 3 to 4 minutes for small ears and 5 to 7 minutes for larger ears.
- Corn kernels can be removed from the cob before or after cooking. Raw kernels can be added to soups, mixed with vegetables, stews, and relishes. Cooked kernels can be added to salads, omelets, pasta, risotto, salsa, or soups.
- Mix kernels off the cob with onions, tomatoes, lima beans, pimiento, green peas, mushrooms, celery, or combinations of these.
- Cooked kernels are served as a vegetable side dish or in salads. Allow 20 minutes when steaming corn kernels.
Late-season varieties often have larger kernels and a sweeter flavor than early varieties.
Flavor partners. Corn has a flavor affinity for basil, beefsteak tomatoes, butter, clams, crab, eggs, fish, lobster, red onion, shrimp, and tarragon.
Season cooked corn with salt or pepper.
Nutrition. Corn contains modest amounts of vitamins A and B, potassium, and fiber. A 5-inch (13 cm) ear of corn has between 70 and 85 calories.
Corn facts and trivia. Corn originated in Central America and is thought to have been first cultivated in Mexico around 7,000 B.C. The Mayans and Aztecs bred and raised corn. Corn for cultivation spread throughout North and much of South America by 800 A.D.
New World explorers brought corn to Europe in the sixteenth century.
Corn is called corn in North America, but in much of the world corn is called maize which is derived from the early American Indian word mahiz.
The botanical name for corn is Zea mays var. rugosa.