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Sear corn with bacon, or just drippings

A simple side dish of sweet corn impressed me more than two types of seafood during a recent restaurant foray.

Sliced from the cob and seared in a hot skillet, the sweet corn at 7 Devils Waterfront Alehouse in Coos Bay shows how the season’s fresh bounty needs little adornment. But when I adapted the idea at home, I couldn’t help but toss in some fresh cherry tomatoes once I’d blistered the kernels in bacon fat.

I usually have a jar of bacon drippings or chicken schmaltz on hand for sauteing vegetables and starting soups and stews. If I have actual sliced or slab bacon, I set the crisped pieces aside for finishing a dish.

Rendering fat for a dish’s foundation is a time-honored technique that, for so many cooks, becomes something of a reflex. Although I don’t recognize the Louisiana staple maque choux as such, its preparation resonates on an instinctual level. It’s how cooks kept reinventing ingredients that just kept coming from the fields — and infused produce with satisfying savor when meat was in short supply.

No bacon? Any thrifty, savvy cook would have some drippings on hand.

Still skeptical? This dish is perfectly acceptable prepared with plant-based oils. But using drippings lends context, not just flavor. If your diet and budget allow, try it both ways and taste the difference.

Maque Choux also can be a main dish served over rice with additional proteins like shrimp or andouille sausage. See more recipes using the season’s sweet corn in my latest food section column.

Tribune News Service photo

Maque Choux With or Without Bacon

1/2 pound bacon, cut into lardons (1/4-inch wide pieces) or 2 tablespoons neutral-flavored oil

1 onion, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 bell pepper, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice

6 to 8 ears fresh corn, shucked, kernels cut off

1 to 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

Salt, as needed

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 cup heavy cream

If using the bacon, crisp it in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Remove bacon and pour out all but a couple tablespoons bacon fat. (Note: Keep remaining bacon fat in a covered jar in refrigerator for later use.)

Increase heat to medium high; saute the onion and bell pepper in bacon fat (or oil, if you’re not using bacon) until soft and starting to color, for about 5 minutes.

Add the corn kernels, garlic and reserved, crisped bacon; saute until cooked through, for 3 to 5 minutes.

Season with the salt and spices, then add the cream and simmer to reduce and thicken, for about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.