Savor the flavor of fresh summer corn

Jalapeno corn muffins are a delicious way to take advantage of summer’s bounty. BY JACK CLEMONS
August 1, 2011

If you’ve purchased corn on the cob at the local farmers markets, you may have noticed the vendors seem to make consistent counting errors (always in our favor). Perhaps it’s early in the morning or they’re busy with all the crowds, but when I ask for half a dozen, I arrive home to find seven ears of corn. And when I buy 12, I am the fortunate recipient of a bakers dozen, packed silk-ends down so as not to rip the bag. Maybe the real reason for this kindness is the organic growing conditions and frequent appearance of extra “protein” tucked into the tassels and husks.

The last few batches we’ve purchased have been long, fat ears, crammed with plump white kernels. I’m looking forward to the bread and butter variety with its cheery mixture of white and yellow kernels, and there are also those purists who resist all but the yellow varieties. Since there are so many ways to enjoy fresh corn, this week’s column will be devoted to several savory options and next week will cover some sweet recipe ideas.

The ragged batch of corn muffins in the photo was enlivened with corn kernels, cheddar cheese and chopped jalapenos. These were made  in the Southern tradition (only stone-ground cornmeal and no white flour), which helps explain their rather flattened tops. Cornmeal is heavier than flour and doesn’t rise as much. Also, the additional ingredients added moisture and created a denser texture.

Northern-style corn muffin batters include just a bit of sugar and substitute white flour for half the cornmeal. Although lighter and more cake-like, these can still be spicy with the addition of bacon and sun-dried tomatoes, as in the recipe below. For either version, be sure to use paper cups or a generous coating of nonstick cooking spray, as the batter is not high in fat and tends to stick to the pan. Always mix the dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately and then whisk them together. Treat shredded cheese as dry and corn kernels or chopped peppers as wet.

One of the easiest ways to add flavor to corn (beyond traditional salt, pepper and butter) is to dress it after it’s been boiled. The ear in the photo spent about four minutes at a simmer and was then tossed in a mixture of olive oil, garlic, lime juice and chopped chipotles. Chipotles are vine-ripened red jalapeno peppers that have been smoked and completely dried to give them a deep, smoky aroma and rich flavor. You can often find them canned in adobo sauce (made of vinegar, tomato and spices). The ones I used were from Penzey’s where they offer bags of whole, dried chipotles or jars of ground chipotle pepper.

The last piece of corn lore is how to cook corn on the cob. As you can imagine, everyone has his or her own favorite method. When boiling, my mother always adds sugar to the water, while some advise adding milk.

You can simmer the ears shucked and free of silk or cook them first and remove the husks afterward.

Tender, young corn doesn’t need long to cook: three to five minutes is usually plenty. Another option is to boil the water, throw in the corn, cover the pot and remove it from the heat. Let the corn cook baste in the hot water for up to 45 minutes while you complete the rest of the meal.

No matter how you cook your corn, thank the growers for their generosity – we’re always grateful when they count the ears!

Cheddar Jalapeno Corn Muffins
1 3/4 C stone-ground cornmeal
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
1 C shredded cheddar cheese
2 eggs
2 C buttermilk
1 C corn kernels
2 chopped jalapeno peppers
1 T melted butter

Preheat oven to 425 F. Line 12-cup muffin tin with paper cups or coat with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients with cheese; set aside. Whisk the eggs and buttermilk together in a small bowl. Stir in corn and peppers. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour in the egg mixture and the melted butter. Stir just until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Yield: 12 muffins

Bacon Tomato Corn Muffins
1 C stone-ground corn meal
1 C flour
1 T sugar
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 t chili powder
1/2 C Monterey Jack cheese
2 eggs
2/3 C milk
3/4 C buttermilk
1 C corn kernels
1/3 C chopped sun-dried tomatoes
6 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
2 T melted butter

Preheat oven to 425 F. Line 12-cup muffin tin with paper cups or coat with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Combine the dry ingredients with the cheese in a mixing bowl; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and milks.

Stir in corn, tomato and bacon. Add the melted butter and dry ingredients, mixing just until combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 15 to 20 minutes. Yield: 12 muffins.

Chipotle Corn on the Cob
6 ears of corn
2 T olive oil
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
3 pressed garlic cloves
1 T minced chipotle chilies
zest and juice of 2 limes

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Remove husks and silk from corn and simmer for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine remaining ingredients in a zip-top bag. When corn is done, drain and place two ears at a time in the seasoning mixture.

Roll to coat completely and repeat with remaining ears. Yield: 6 servings.