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This is how to freeze local corn for later

Our pal Paul is missing out on the local corn season.

I feel bad about that because he’s a real fan and in summers past has embraced the harvest to ensure his refrigerator and freezer are well supplied for daily and down-the-road corn hits.

So while he’s captaining a research vessel up in the deep blue waters of Alaska, I’ve been secretly stocking up for him, tumbling tender, blanched kernels into freezer bags that will be handed over as a surprise birthday present after his return in late September.

It got me thinking: Lots of cooks don’t really know the ins and outs of freezing corn. There’s a misapprehension that you can toss those freshly picked and shucked ears straight into the freezer and they’ll come out just fine on the other end.

But both Paul and I have conducted independent quality evaluations over the last few summers, and we’ve both landed in the same blanch-and-cut camp. Meaning, flavor and texture are far too negatively affected if you don’t expose those fresh kernels to a minute or two of heat to stop the enzymatic action, and cut the blanched kernels from the cobs before freezing.

And while I’m on the subject of cutting corn away from the cob, I might as well pass along my true bias on the subject. I like to leave the corn in chunky pieces, the way it falls away from the cob, instead of breaking those chunks into individual kernels. I even have a name for them: corn rafts. Eating a corn raft provides a greater hit of corn flavor and texture, which is what eating corn is all about.

To make corn rafts, hold a cob of cooked-and-cooled corn vertically on a cutting board (stalk-side down) and cut down between the kernels and the cob, as close as possible to the cob, in a precise and steady motion. The corn will fall away in chunks of connected kernels. Rotate and repeat the cutting. When you’ve removed the corn rafts from a cob, use a spatula to gently lift the chunks of corn from the cutting board and place them on a plate until ready to use. If some of the rafts seem too long, just break them into shorter lengths. The idea is to have pieces that are relatively bite-sized.

You can prepare the corn up to 24 hours ahead, then simply arrange the rafts on a plate, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for fresh eating.

For freezing, shuck the fresh ears of corn. Have a very large pot or bowl of ice water standing by to cool the blanched corn quickly.

Bring another large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add a few ears at a time (just enough so that the water will come back to a boil in just a minute or two) and boil for just 2 to 3 minutes (start timing once the water is just about ready to return to a boil). Using tongs, remove the ears to the ice water so they will cool quickly. Repeat with remaining ears of corn.

If you have the freezer space to do so, spread the kernels out on parchment-lined baking sheets (to prevent the damp kernels from freezing to the metal) and freeze in a shallow layer to preserve the character of the kernels. Once frozen, gently tumble the corn into freezer bags and return to the freezer.

If you don’t have the space in your freezer to handle the kernels that way, place the freshly cut kernels in freezer bags, keeping the contents as shallow as possible so the pieces won’t freeze in too large of a block. The larger the chunk of frozen corn kernels, the more difficult to remove single batches of frozen kernels as desired in the future.

Use your frozen kernels in any recipe calling for fresh corn kernels. Because they are blanched, they will need very little additional cooking, so adjust the recipe accordingly to avoid over-cooking.

Creamy Corn with Candied Bacon

Makes 6 generous servings.

For the Candied Bacon:

¼ cup brown sugar

½ to 1 teaspoon cayenne (depending how spicy you want it)

8 slices thick-cut bacon

For the corn saute:

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup finely chopped Walla Walla Sweet onion (or other sweet onion)

1 clove garlic, minced

4 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels

½ cup chicken broth

½ cup heavy cream

Scant ½ teaspoon ground white pepper

¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

To prepare the candied bacon, line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray a cooling rack with nonstick vegetable spray and set it inside the prepared pan; set aside. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the brown sugar and cayenne. Dredge the strips of bacon in the brown sugar mixture and arrange on the rack. Bake until crisp and brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, and when it is cool enough to handle, break into 1-inch pieces and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat; add the onions and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 30 seconds, then add the corn and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, uncovered, until the chicken broth is reduced to a glaze or very little liquid is left in the skillet. Add the cream and white pepper and cook for 10 minutes to reduce the cream by about three-quarters. Adjust the seasonings with salt and more pepper. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with the parsley, and top with the candied bacon.

— Recipe adapted from “Harvest to Heat, Cooking with America’s Best Chefs, Farmers, and Artisans,” by Darryl Estrine and Kelly Kochendorfer.

Kokanee Cafe Chipotle Corn Butter for On-Or-Off-The Cob

The Kokanee Cafe is in Camp Sherman, off Highway 20, 15 miles west of Sisters. Several summers ago, the last step for fresh-from-the-pot corn before it landed on a diner's plate was a quick roll through this special butter.  I like to prepare a batch and freeze in dollops to use in simple sautes with my frozen kernels of local corn. Very simple: Heat a dollop of butter in a skillet, add corn and heat through, then serve.

½ pound butter, at room temperature

1 tablespoon minced shallots

1 teaspoon minced garlic

About 2 tablespoons butter

3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, drained and minced (see note)

¼ cup minced cilantro

Heat about 2 tablespoons of the butter in a small skillet over medium heat and saute the shallots and garlic until the shallots are softened. Remove from heat and stir in the chipotle peppers (with some of the liquid from the can) and cilantro. Let the mixture cool, and then blend it into the remaining softened butter using a wooden spoon. Chill or freeze in desired amounts.

For corn off the cob: Cut and scrape the kernels from the desired number of ears of corn (figure about ½ cup of kernels per ear) and saute in a skillet with a spoonful of the butter until heated through, 3 to 4 minutes.

For corn on the cob: To serve at the table, place a reasonable portion of the prepared butter in a bowl and pass around the table with the hot corn, or place the prepared butter in a shallow bowl and store in refrigerator until needed, then simply roll freshly boiled and drained pieces of corn (on the cob) around on its surface; serve immediately.

— 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. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.