How to make perfect corn on the cob

(Photo: USDA / Wikimedia)(Photo: USDA / Wikimedia)By Sarah B. Weir

The year's best corn is just hitting farm stands and vegetable markets. We asked some top chefs -- and one farmer -- how to make the most of this summer's crop.

Choosing the sweetest ears of corn

The chefs all have their favorite recipes, but the thing they agree on is that you will never get a great final product if you start with starchy, bland corn.

Karen Smiarowski runs the stand for her husband's farm and dairy in Hadley, Massachusetts. She gave us these tips on how to choose the best ears:

  • The base of cob where it attaches to the ear should feel firm and crisp.
  • Check the husk for little brown holes that resemble cigarette burns. This is a sign that corn worms have infested the ear.
  • If you do find a wormy bit at the tip of the ear, just break it off and use the rest. If you are concerned about pesticides, worms are an indication that the crop wasn't heavily sprayed.
  • Buy corn the same day it was harvested, if possible. Look for bright green husks and pale, glossy silk.

Boiling corn on the cob

Basic boiled corn on the cob is the most popular way to eat fresh picked, local corn, but avoiding overcooking it can be tricky.

The chefs' tips:

  • "I'm a big believer in lots of salted water. Boil until the kernels start to get shiny, and serve immediately wrapped in a clean, cloth dish towel." Jack Pickett, owner of Frida's Taqueria and Grill in Stowe, Vermont.
  • Cook corn that was harvested the same day for only 2-3 minutes, but check older corn for doneness by tasting a kernel every couple of minutes. "Corn that is 2 days or older requires more time to cook since the simple sugars begin to convert into complex starches." Peter Berley, author of The Flexitarian Table and Fresh Food Fast.

Grilling corn

Grilled corn is another chefs' favorite. Grilling corn in the husk "adds an earthiness to the flavor," says Chris Stevens, executive chef, Wolfgang Puck Catering.

  • "Soak corn in water for 20 minutes before grilling the ears in their husks." Julian Medina, chef/owner of restaurants including Toloache, Yerba Buena, and Coppelia in New York City.
  • How do you determine when grilled corn is done? "Check the color, it should go from pale yellow when raw to a deep, robust gold." Victor Casanova, executive chef, Culina, Modern Italian in the Four Seasons Hotel, Beverly Hills.
  • Serve grilled corn Mexican-style with chipotle mayo, lime, crumbled cojita cheese, and chile piquin, says Medina.

Using the leftover corn

Don't throw away your extra corn. Here are some simple recipes you can make with a few ears.

Create a refreshing corn salad by tossing cooked kernels with a generous squeeze of lime, a drizzle of olive oil, a small pinch of cayenne pepper, and salt to taste. Serve cold with any kind of barbecue. -- Julian Medina

Strip fresh corn off the cob and sauté in butter with chopped scallions and a bit of fresh chili pepper. Salt and pepper to taste. -- Peter Berley

Corn "oysters" (fritters) are a classic New England breakfast. Mix a cup of kernels grated off the cob with one egg (beaten), 1/4 cup flour, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Drop generous spoonfuls in hot oil and fry over medium heat until nicely browned on both sides. Serve with maple syrup. -- Jack Pickett

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