We are finally seeing good local corn in the farmer’s markets and stores in the Northwest. Last Saturday, while Mead was out of town, I prepared corn I’d purchased earlier in the day and had a corn on the cob party of one at my house. It was amazingly good. While picking out the corn I was performing my usual ritual of slightly pulling back the husks and poking a kernel with my thumbnail to make sure it popped immediately when a gentleman next to me told me I didn’t have to pull the husks back. He suggested instead that if the external silk is brown that the corn is ripe. I suggested in return that brown silk, or worse, dry husks, indicate the corn was picked long ago and is well past its prime. If a kernel pops easily with pressure from a thumbnail it’s fresh – if it doesn’t pop easily or dents rather than pops put it back it’s no good. I would also add that pulling back the husks is the only way to make sure there isn’t an ugly worm or two eating your delicious corn.
The best corn on the cob I ever ate was in August many years ago, on a farm near Clear Lake, Iowa. The corn was being picked in an adjacent field and immediately roasted in their husks over a barbeque pit. Once the steaming corn was shucked you rolled the ear in a pan of melted butter, applied salt, and ate the smoky, sweet delicacy until you could not eat any more. I expect that my scold at the farmer’s market has not had the pleasure.
I made the corn chowder shown above with some corn I carefully purchased at Whole Foods. The silk had only just started to turn brownish, the kernels popped when pressure was applied, and no ugly caterpillars were lurking under the husks. And even though they had a bin next to the corn display where you could shuck your corn before leaving the store it is best to leave the husks on the corn and refrigerate it until it’s time to prepare it. Like most chowders, this is an easy dish to prepare with most of the work being done in the slicing and dicing stage. Once you are ready to cook everything comes together quickly. You could cut down or eliminate the chipotle seasoning if you were unsure about the spicy heat (mild in my estimation) and replacing the bacon with a drop or two of liquid smoke and a little more salt would make a nice vegetarian version. The recipe comes from Fine Cooking, my favorite recipe source. This is a terrific way to enjoy Summer’s bounty and as the recipe suggests this dish just wouldn’t be the same with anything but fresh corn.