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Cooking Corn

Irma R., a novice home cook, turns to F&W's Tina Ujlaki with her kitchen questions. This month, the topic is corn: buying it, grilling it and baking it in a lovely summer pudding.

Question

Dear Tina,

I love corn on the cob, but I'm sort of hopeless at picking good ears! When I'm at the market, I know I'm not supposed to strip the husks to peek at the kernels. What should I do?
Yours truly, Irma

Answer

Dear Irma,

I'm afraid my tips for selecting perfect ears of corn aren't as foolproof as the ones I'd offer for choosing a bunch of arugula (taste a leaf) or a basket of strawberries (take a whiff), but there are a few telltale signs of freshness. At the market, reach for ears from the bottom of the heap, or the sack, where the temperature is coolest. Check the ends of the ears—they should look like they were just cut from the stalk, not withered or dry. The ears should be tightly encased in their husks—and intact. If possible, avoid buying partially husked supermarket corn, the kind that's had its tops lopped off and been wrapped in plastic. The ears should feel heavy for their size and have husks that are green and fresh, kernels within that feel plump and tight, and silk that's shiny and golden. There's one thing I can't help you with, unfortunately: worms. They're wily creatures and sometimes burrow their way into a tasty cob without leaving a trail. Simply cut out the invaded territory and throw it away.
Best, Tina

Question

Dear Tina,

I love the smoky-roasted flavor of grilled corn, but every recipe I consult suggests a different grilling method. I'm so confused! Can you help?
Yours sincerely, Irma

Answer

Dear Irma,

I think it comes down to two things: how much time you want to spend, and how you plan to enjoy the cooked corn. If you're in a hurry (I always am!) and want to make a roasted-corn salsa or succotash, dishes that don't need a lot of corn, you can take a shortcut. Simply cut the kernels from the cobs and pan-roast them in a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over moderate heat until they're browned or charred to your liking. If, on the other hand, it's all about corn on the cob, you'll need to fire up the grill. To prepare the ears for grilling, peel back the husks layer by layer, pull off the silk and re-form the husks, tying them at the top with a strip of husk if necessary. Grill covered over moderate heat, turning the ears, until the husks are charred all around, about 15 minutes. For a less intense smoky flavor, leave the silk on and the grill uncovered. Either way, soak the ears at least briefly before grilling. To eat, pull back the charred husks and use them as a handle. Slather the roasted ears with chile-lime butter or mayo and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Best, Tina

Question

Dear Tina,

I made corn pudding and ended up with a curdled mess. Any thoughts?
Yours gratefully, Irma

Answer

Dear Irma,

Perhaps the dish was too deep, so the pudding's edges overcooked before it set in the center; or maybe the heat was too high. Try again with this lovely recipe. It's adapted from The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock.
Best, Tina

Published August 2003
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