SUMMER FRESH CORN ON THE COB
As one drives out of the city on a hot summer day towering concrete and glass buildings begin to shrink in both size and frequency. Towards the edge of the city traditional green spaces outnumber modern buildings and the grey, lifeless constructs give way to the swaying stocks of rice, soy and corn in farm fields. Just after the rainy season of June here in Japan a few of the most anticipated vegetable crops signal that good times are just ahead. Elongated, shiny and purple the eggplant arrives first. Shortly after the uniquely shaped okra bears its sticky textured pods. What follows in August is the King of the summer vegetables and a must-buy at roadside farmers markets – the gloriously sweet and juicy fresh corn on the cob.
HISTORY OF CORN
The mystery of where corn first appeared has several has yet to be completely solved although evidence exists to support more than a few theories. Corn is often associated with the West and North America specifically. Whether it be Mexican or Tex-Mex or Southwestern Food it has a well-defined geographic association. However, the real story of corn precedes the Empires that settled in the West. The idea that corn began in 1492 when Columbus’s men discovered this golden crop in Cuba offers an incomplete historical view. American Native Indian culture is where the true story of corn begins.
Archeological evidence supporting corn as indigenous to the western hemisphere was identified from corn pollen grain considered to be 80,000 years old obtained from a find beneath Mexico City. It is descended from teosinte, a wild grass that continues to thrive in parts of Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. Radiocarbon dating revealed corncobs that were 5,600 years old in another archeological study conducted in bat caves in New Mexico. General consensus of historians is that corn was domesticated in the Tehuacan Valley of Mexico with the original wild form now considered long extinct. Further evidence points to the cultivation of corn creating cross hybrids to primitive maize that eventually led to modern versions. Human domestication of corn through agriculture has modified corn from a wild plant in its recent form.
Only after association with them was it exported to Europe. Corn grew from an exotic plant grown in European gardens to become the major crop it is recognized as today in many food cultures. Within years of its first introduction it quickly spread throughout France, Italy, and most of southeastern Europe – eventually reaching the Northern countries of Africa. By 1575, its popularity had mad inroads to the Far East including China and the Phillipines.
The use of corn is now prolific in the world with it now present in many products one would not normally think of as corn products. Much has been discussed about the role of corn in our diets following the screening of the 2010 film titled KING CORN and the worrisome trend of mono-cropping that runs completely counterintuitive to the centuries of human efforts that run before it. Whereas once the goal of improving corn was for health and to ensure survival it seems that there are now dark forces at work looking to exploit rather than enhance life. Why we would want to change course is difficult to fathom.
VARIETIES OF SUMMER CORN
One can determine corn types based on the shape of kernel. The most common types by name are:
- Sweet Popcorn.
An 1828 seed catalog listed one variety of “modern” sweet corn. By 1881, gardeners could choose from 16 varieties. Today, there are hundreds. The great variability of the corn plant led to the selection of numerous widely adapted varieties which hardly resembled one another. The plant may have ranged from no more than a couple of feet tall to over 20 feet. It was not like the uniform sized plant that most people know today. For the Aztecs, Mayas, Incas and various Pueblo dwellers of the southwestern United States, corn growing took precedence over all other activities.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF CORN
Corn is an excellent source of vitamins A, B1 and C, as well as phosphorus. Corn is also high in carbohydrates and contains protein and amino acids. One interesting fact:
when corn is eaten with beans and squash, the combination of amino acids creates a protein equivalent to that of meat
HOW TO BUY CORN
Look at the silks, which darken and dry as the ears mature. Squeeze and feel the ear through the husk to check for kernel plumpness. If an ear looks and feels ripe, then gently pull back the husk to expose a small portion of the ear. Press your thumbnail into a kernel crown to see if squirts out a milky, sweet liquid. If the fluid is clear the ear is not yet ripe, so replace the husk and check again the following day. If the fluid is thick, the ear is still edible but past its prime, so harvest and use as soon as possible.
HOW TO STORE FRESH CORN ON THE COB
For short-term storage, leave ears in the husks and refrigerate. For longer storage, whole ears can be frozen unhusked and uncooked. Simply place them in the freezer for about 48 hours, then put them in sealable plastic bags and return to the freezer.
Another method is to first remove the corn niblets with a knife. See the section : HOW TO PREPARE CORN below on how best to remove corn niblets. Once removed spread the niblets on a large tray and freeze for a few hours. Once frozen place them in sealable plastic bags and return to the freezer.
HOW TO PREPARE CORN
In western kitchens this is usually accomplished by removing the husk and silky skins and then standing the cob of corn vertically on its flat side. Using a strong bladed knife cut down the cob to remove the niblets. Rotate the cob and repeat until all the niblets are removed. This is quite a common technique although it damages rows of niblets in the process.
A better method to remove niblets is to first pull off the husks and silky strings. Next, with a strong bladed knife cut across the width of the corn cob in 3 or 4 equally spaced places. Take one of the sections of corn firmly in one hand and hold the knife blade parallel to the rows of corn niblets. Push the length of the blade tip between one row and gradually peel off the niblets. The blade tip should sit just below the niblets as you rotate the corn section. This method requires a little more focus and skill however the result is the unbroken extraction of the corn niblets. This is the preferred method in professional Japanese kitchens and should be done with a very sharp and thin but firm bladed knife.
HOW TO COOK CORN
There are multiple ways to how to cook corn and maintain its delicious flavors. Steaming corn offers the benefit of preserving all of the original corn flavors. This is one of our favorite techniques.
RECIPES FOR CORN
STEAMING corn offers the benefit of preserving all of the original corn flavors. This is one of our favorite techniques. Steam for 15-20 minutes then allow to cool slightly before serving. Alternatively, once cooled the niblets can be removed and used in other recipes.
BOILING corn is probably the most popular method for cooking corn in the home. Remove the husks and silky strings prior to cooking. Boil for 15-20 minutes in a large stockpot filled with water then allow to cool slightly before serving. Alternatively, once cooled the niblets can be removed and used in other recipes.
GRILLING corn whole in the husk without peeling requires one critical preparatory step. At least a few hours beforehand peel the husks halfway and remove the silky strings. Replace the husks in their original position and tie a string around the top to hold them in place. Soak the whole corn cobs in a basin filled with cold water for 3 to 6 hours. This will hydrate the husks so they do not burn quick when placed on the grill. When you are ready to grill be sure the fire embers are white hot and without flames. Place the cobs on the grill and cover with a hood lid. Periodically rotate the cobs to prevent burning. They should be ready after 15 -20 minutes. The result should be juicy corn with a slight smokiness from the hot grill. This can be done indoors or outdoors.