The Wonderful Season of Fresh Corn

We are in the middle of a wonderful season – fresh sweet corn season! It is definitely one of the greatest treats of the summer. Whether you grow your own or buy it in the store or the farmer’s market, you may want to consider not only cooking some for your dinner but also storing some for future use. In this Cooking Tip, we will discuss the best ways to do just that.

Let’s first discuss how to pick out the best corn if you are purchasing it. Contrary to what so many people do in the store, you should not remove the husks before purchasing it. The husks/silks protect the corn and keep it fresher for you until you can prepare it. You may ask how you know it is a good ear if you do not look. First, feel the corn to make sure the kernels feel firm and not soft.

The corn husk should be bright green, wrapped tightly against the corn and slightly damp. Do not choose ones that are starting to yellow or feel dry. Also, avoid any with small brown holes, which could mean insects. The bottom of the corn where the ear was broken off the stalk in the field should not be brown as that indicates it may not be the freshest.

The tassel should be light brown or gold, and slightly sticky to the touch. If you smell it, it should smell slightly sweet. Avoid corn that has a tassel that is dry, black or mushy.

Once you get home, it’s fine to store your corn at room temperature if you’re going to cook it within the next few hours. If you don’t plan on eating it right away, it’s best to refrigerate the corn in the crisper with the husks on, tightly wrapped in a plastic bag.

You may have heard the adage that you shouldn’t pick the corn until the water is boiling. This is based on the concern that corn’s sugars turn quickly into starch after picking. This may have been true at one time but about 25 years ago, corn began to be modified to be much sweeter with a longer shelf life, giving more time for you before its sweetness deteriorates.

When you are ready to eat it, it is time to remove the husks and silk. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Carefully lower the cobs into the pot, cover and return it to a boil. No need to add salt as it won’t penetrate the corn. There are also those that feel salt makes the kernels tougher. Boil for 3-5 minutes or until tender. Some varieties will cook faster than others as will fresher corn.

What do you put on the corn once it is on your plate? Butter, of course! To liven it up a bit, you may want to try an herb butter, a chipotle butter or some other type of compound butter.

If you want to keep the corn for later use, think of freezing it. The main debate is whether or not you need to blanch the corn before removing the kernels for freezing. Cooks Illustrated looked at this and decided there was no need to do so. They compared freezing kernels raw and after blanching for a minute. Their tasters preferred corn kernels that had been frozen raw rather than those that had been blanched.

The University of Minnesota extension office disagrees as they feel the natural enzymes in corn need to be inactivated before freezing to prevent loss of color, nutrients and flavor as well as textural changes. Blanching is how you inactivate the enzymes. The National Center for Food Preservation also recommends blanching. I encourage to try both ways and see what you think. If you do, let me know your results.

If you choose to blanch, be sure to put them into an ice bath to chill after removing from the hot water. This prevents over-cooking.

Whether you blanch or not, cut the kernels from the cobs, spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the freezer. Once they are frozen, transfer the kernels to a zipper-lock bag and freeze them for up to two months.

Although you can freeze whole cobs, the result is generally disappointing. So, take the bit of time to remove the kernels before freezing.

I love corn on its own but it is also great in a salsa, in a side dish like Esquites (a Mexican corn dish) or Maque Choux (a very rich Creole dish) or just sautéed in a hot skillet. You may prefer to grill it. Do you have a favorite way to enjoy summer corn? Let me know. Enjoy the season while it is here and put some away for a dreary winter day!