Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Kernel of Hope

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears: This post is going to be even cornier than usual, because today I am going to be talking about corn! (Collective groan). It is finally the season for corn on the cob, which, for me, is one of those enduring symbols of summer. Is there anything better than biting into your first sweet, juicy ear of corn of the year? I think not. (Whether you employ the "typewriter" method of eating across the cob in lines, or the "rotation" method of eating around it in rings is a matter of personal preference).

However that whole idyllic moment can suddenly go very, very wrong if what you bite into is a bland, starchy ear of corn, instead. Not to be a Cob Snob, but yecch.

Here's how to become an expert- a Kernel Colonel, if you will, in choosing corn:
1. Try to find the freshest corn you can. The sugars in corn start breaking down as soon as it is picked, so the fresher, the sweeter. As a rule of thumb, local corn bought by the side of the road cannot be beat.
2. If you don't live in the kind of place where there are quaint roadside stands, you can still get good corn at the store. Always buy ears that still have the husk on them. I love when the grocery store has a big ol' pile of corn with a "6 for $1" special, because that corn is likely to be pretty freshly picked. No matter how much you hate the messy task of husking the corn, avoid plastic-wrapped pre-husked corn. It will be more expensive and decidedly less fresh and sweet.
3. Peel back a few inches of the husk to check the quality of the corn. The kernels should be plump and light yellow, not shriveled or browning. You will also want to check for worms, which are a natural part of the deal, but tend to be unappetizing.
4. If you are adventurous, take a small bite of the raw corn. Although it will taste kind of gross and raw (duh), you will be able to tell the quality of the flavor (sweetness, mealiness). Even if it's gross, you still have to pay for that ear, though.
5. When you get the corn home, refrigerate it if you don't plan to eat it right away. Refrigeration will prevent the sugars from breaking down as quickly.

If you have your heart set on eating corn, but are concerned about the quality of the corn you bought, there is one last trick you can employ to save it:
Add 1/2 cup of granulated sugar to the pot you are boiling the corn in (or soak the ears in sugar water before grilling). Somehow, the corn totally soaks up the sugar, leaving it deliciously sweet.

photo credit: Martha Stewart

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