A Southern touch to Pacific Northwest corn
Southern cooks have been boiling their summer corn on the cob in a milk, sugar and water bath for eons. Yet my eyes have always glazed over when encountering such recipes.
Up here in the Pacific Northwest, why would we ever need such a maneuver to raise the wow factor of our perfect corn? Well, how about because it’s a fantastic portal to a whole new approach to corn cuisine. Suddenly, just when I thought I’d experienced every reasonable permutation one can with fresh local corn, I have a new passion: Fresh, local corn simmered in cream.
Now, cream wasn’t a part of the original game plan in my exploration of the subject. Like most recipes in development, there was a progression. It went something like this: If boiling corn on the cob in milk, water and sugar is good, perhaps boiling it in cream and butter would be even better.
At this point, I need to credit The Kitchen food blog. One of its corn recipes was titled “Hot Honey Butter Bath Corn” and my eyeballs did a double-take. Whoa! That sounded pretty yummy. I perused the recipe and sure enough, there was milk (some), butter (lots), and honey (a drizzle). But the hook was the pinch of red pepper flakes and freshly ground black pepper. It had me willing to roll up my sleeves and give it a whirl. After all, I’d been eating corn slathered with chipotle butter for years.
I immediately began fiddling with the concept. Out with the water, in with the cream. If a little milk is good, I was positive a whole lot of cream would be even better. It certainly was! The resulting corn came out sweet, tender and flavorful. Which is saying a lot for a corn head like myself.
Plus, all of the “lesser” ingredients — the whisper of spice from the pinch of red pepper flakes and freshly ground black pepper, as well as the drizzle of honey — provide a layer of earthiness that elevates the experience.
For my follow-up act, I contemplated that heavenly creamy-buttery liquid. Even if you passed some of it at the table for diners to slather on their corn, there’s a whole lot left over. Way too much to waste. Which is how a spin-off came into being: Fresh Corn Bisque with Bacon. A creamy corn chowder punctuated by tender chunks of diced potato, a bit of sauteed onion, juicy corn kernels cleaved from the cob (after simmering in the cream, butter, honey and pepper flake solution), and a generous handful of smoky diced bacon. Lovely!
So if this is your summer of culinary experimentation — because we’re all spending more time in our kitchens — you might include these corn maneuvers.
Just don’t waste too much time. Corn season in Southern Oregon will only last so long. And it would be cruel to miss it.
Fresh Corn Cooked in Butter, Cream and Honey
Makes 6 servings.
3 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup (1 cube) butter
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 ears fresh, local corn, shucked and halved
In a pot large and deep enough to hold the ears of corn in a single layer, combine the half-and-half, butter, honey, red pepper flakes, black pepper and salt. Bring to a boil (stirring to make sure the honey has dissolved) and add the corn. The cobs will not be completely submerged, but that’s OK because you will be rotating them midway through the cooking process.
Once the cream returns to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Midway through, rotate the cobs so the upper portion of each cob is face down in the cream. Remove the pot from the burner and place the corn in a bowl to serve. Ladle some of the cream/butter mixture into a serving bowl so diners can drizzle on extra at the table.
Fresh Corn Bisque with Bacon
Makes 4-6 servings
1 recipe of Fresh Corn Cooked in Butter, Cream and Honey (which will yield about 3 cups of corn kernels)
5 slices bacon, diced
1/3 cup finely minced yellow onion
2 cups peeled and diced russet potato (1/2-inch pieces)
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the corn as directed in the Fresh Corn Cooked in Butter, Cream and Honey recipe. Remove ears from the cream mixture and set aside until cool enough to handle. Reserve the cooking liquid.
In a deep-sided skillet or medium-sized pot, saute the bacon pieces over medium heat until well browned. Remove the bacon to drain on paper towel. Drain off the bacon fat and return the skillet to the burner. Add the onion and cook until softened and translucent. Add the potato pieces, chicken broth and black pepper and deglaze the pan, scraping up all the cooked-on bits of bacon and onion. Bring the liquid to a simmer, and cook until the liquid has reduced by half, then replace the lid and continue cooking until the potato is tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
Once the corn has cooled enough to handle, cut the corn kernels from the cobs using a sharp knife; set aside. In a medium bowl, stand each cut corncob on end. Using the back side of a chef’s knife, scrape the cobs thoroughly all around to release the residual corn pulp and liquid. You won’t get a lot of pulp, but it will still be enough to contribute to thickening the bisque.
To assemble the bisque, bring the reserved cream/butter liquid to a simmer. Add the reserved 3 cups of cooked corn kernels, along with the pulp and liquid, the potatoes and chicken broth mixture, and the reserved bacon pieces. Bring back to a simmer, then remove from the heat and serve.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.