11/03/2011 01:49 pm ET | Updated Aug 31, 2012
  • Mark Bittman Kitchen Daily

Think about it: If frozen corn is good (and it is; I frequently and happily use it year round), how could fresh corn not be sublime? It's one of those things that has become a cliché, and for good reason: Fresh-picked corn bought at a farmers' market or roadside stand, briefly steamed as soon as you get home, eaten plain or with just a smear of butter and a little salt and pepper, is the quintessential summer eating experience.

In almost all cases, corn requires husking (also known as shucking) before it's cooked, but don't buy already-shucked corn -- it won't taste nearly as fresh. Instead, look for corn whose husk hugs the kernels tightly and looks bright green and unwilted. And don't shuck too far in advance of cooking it (anyway, there's no need to; it doesn't take more than a few minutes to do it). When you're ready, peel each layer of husk back and tug it to pull it off, then remove the silk (the soft strands attached to the top of each cob) with your fingers.

The only time you might not want to remove the husk completely is when you're grilling. You certainly can grill naked corn -- just be sure you want the kernels browned and charred, because that's how they'll be (I like corn this way). But if you prefer your corn yellow and sort of steam-grilled, just peel the husk back without tearing it off, remove the silk, and fold the husk back over the ear. Then grill the corn in its husks, turning occasionally, for 10 to 20 minutes total. If you like, you can peel back the husks after 10 minutes or so of grilling and brush the kernels with seasonings -- butter, olive oil, sour cream, cheese, spices, citrus juice, and chopped fresh herbs are all good, alone or in combination -- and then smooth the husks back over the corn and put it back on the grill to give the flavors some time to meld.

It's easier to flavor corn if you strip the kernels from the cob before cooking it, though: Hold each ear upright on a plate or bowl with one hand, and scrape the kernels off the cob from top to bottom with a sharp knife. Now you have more cooking options; you can sauté it, pan-roast it, turn it into fritters, stir it into bread batter, poach it in cream and butter for creamed corn . . . the possibilities are extensive, if not endless.

One thing I love to do with fresh corn kernels (once I've had my fill of simply steamed or grilled corn on the cob, that is) is to turn them into relish. Mine is not an acidic or sweet relish; it's a very simple, quickly sautéed mix of corn and fresh tomatoes, laced with cumin and a pinch of cayenne. It keeps for a couple of days in the refrigerator, and goes beautifully with steak, chicken, pork, or almost any fish. (You can also eat it straight up.) However you serve it, you probably won't have any trouble getting through a batch before it goes bad.
If you're up for something a little more time-consuming -- but also more impressive and rewarding -- try puréeing corn and baking it into a savory custard with cheddar, parsley, and thyme. It's amazing how much corniness is transmitted in every spoonful of the flan; somehow, the richness of the milk, egg, and cheese take a backseat to the corn, which is -- perhaps inevitably -- the star of the show.


Mark Bittman