It’s time for locally grown corn, on or off the cob

  • By Jan Roberts-Dominguez
  • Thursday, September 4, 2014 3:44pm
  • Life

Time is short when it comes to the simple pleasure of enjoying one of summer’s best offerings. I always seem to be playing catch-up during the brief summer weeks when the local corn is on deck.

Well, arrive it has. By the truck load. All over town the household cube of butter is permanently indented from the heavy onslaught of corn roll-bys.

In the last few years, I’ve even added another level of ritual to my annual celebration of corn season. With all our August and September backpacking trips, the first night’s menu always consists of fresh local corn. Off the cob, of course, and packed into a recloseable plastic bag, along with the pat of butter it will be cooked with up in the wilderness. The extra weight it adds to my pack for the first leg of our adventure is fair trade for the groans of delight it produces among our group of trail-weary hikers.

As long as the kernels have been refrigerated up to the point of hitting the trail, they arrive at the end of that first day’s hike perky, tender, and receptive to a brief simmer in the largest backpacking pot we’ve got, along with the butter, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and just a splash of water.

While many cultures and their cuisines focus on the various by-products of corn — cornbread, polenta, hominy, and tortilla, to name a few — what most Americans really hanker for this time of year is plain old, finger-lickin’, teeth pickin’, five-napkin corn-on-the-cob. Or off. But just barely, as in really good creamed corn, or corn saute, or a salad of fresh roasted corn kernels, tomatoes and cukes.

So I figure my job is simply to offer a bit of guidance. For example, in my enthusiastic support of local corn, I’m constantly encouraging cooks to start with ears that are at their peak of maturity. Not immature or over-mature. Mature. To judge for yourself, simply peel back a tiny little strip of the husk and poke a kernel with your thumbnail. Perfectly mature corn will spurt a slightly milky liquid, whereas overly mature corn, with its doughy interior, barely any liquid.

Please note that I said “gently peel” a tiny little strip of the husk. That doesn’t mean you have my blessing to yank down an entire side of husk from each ear you’re investigating. That would be rude. All you need to do is expose a few kernels to execute your thumbnail test.

Of course, Nobody needs help on figuring out what to do with those first few weeks’ worth of the local corn harvest. But by now you may be looking for alternatives. Which is where the following recipes come in. Simple preparations, as well as a collection of flavored butters that offer a bit of variation on the corn on the cob theme.

Prepare several different flavored butters soon. Then store them in the refrigerator to have on hand for the rest of the corn season. Last year I even made up an extra big batch of my favorite — Kokanee Cafe’s Chipotle Butter — and gave it away to some fellow corn heads. You can just imagine how popular I was.

Corn-on-the-cob tips

Boiled: Cooking local sweet corn only takes a few minutes. Some folks believe that that means dropping the prepared ears into rapidly boiling water and whisking them from the water 3 to 4 minutes later. That’s definitely the high road. But I’m not quite that fanatical, and so, will not send the corn police in your direction if you want to start the ears in cold water then start the cooking time when it’s reached a boil. And depending on the size and tenderness of the kernels, my time range varies from 4 to 7 minutes of cooking at a boil.

Roasted: For foil-roasted corn on the cob, place rinsed ears (with a bit of water still clinging to the kernels) in squares of heavy-duty foil, brush with melted butter (or dollops of any of the flavored butters prepared from the recipes below) and wrap well. Roast on a hot grill or in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes.

Steamed: For steamed corn on the cob, place shucked corn on a rack in a pot over 1 inch of boiling water and steam for 6 to 10 minutes, depending on size and tenderness of the ears, with lid on.

Kokanee Cafe chipotle corn butter

½ pound butter, at room temperature

1 tablespoon minced shallots

1 teaspoon minced garlic

About 2 tablespoons butter

3 chipotle peppers, minced (see note)

¼ cup minced cilantro

The Kokanee Cafe is in Camp Sherman, Ore., located off Highway 20, just 15 miles west of Sisters in Central Oregon. Several summers ago, the last step for fresh-from-the-pot corn before it landed on a diner’s plate, was a quick roll through this special butter. I don’t know if it’s still on the menu since ownership has changed.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of the butter in a small skillet over medium heat and saute the shallots and garlic until the shallots are softened. Remove from heat and stir in the chipotle peppers (with some of the liquid from the can) and cilantro. Let the mixture cool, and then blend it into the remaining softened butter using a wooden spoon.

For corn off the cob: Cut and scrape the kernels from the desired number of ears of corn (figure about ½ cup of kernels per ear) and saute in a skillet with a spoonful of the butter until heated through, 3 to 4 minutes.

For corn on the cob: To serve at the table, place a reasonable portion of the prepared butter in a bowl and pass around the table with the hot corn. Alternatively, place the prepared butter in a shallow bowl and store in refrigerator until needed, then simply roll freshly-boiled and drained pieces of corn (on the cob) around on its surface; serve immediately.

Kokanee Cafe roasted red pepper butter

½ pound butter, at room temperature (divided)

1 tablespoon minced shallots

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 roasted and peeled red peppers, seeded and minced

½ pound butter, at room temperature

black pepper

This is another one of the butters that used to be on the menu at the Kokanee Café.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of the butter in a small skillet over medium heat and saute the shallots and garlic until the shallots are softened. Remove from heat and stir in the roasted peppers and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Let the mixture cool, and then blend it into the remaining softened butter using a wooden spoon.

For corn off the cob: Cut and scrape the kernels from the desired number of ears of corn (figure about ½ cup of kernels per ear) and saute in a skillet with a spoonful of the butter until heated through, 3 to 4 minutes.

For corn on the cob: To serve at the table, place a reasonable portion of the prepared butter in a bowl and pass around the table with the hot corn. Alternatively, place the prepared butter in a shallow bowl and store in refrigerator until needed, then simply roll freshly-boiled and drained pieces of corn (on the cob) around on its surface; serve immediately.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer. Contact her at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

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