I first discovered Elote when I was living in Chicago. There were all these Mexican street vendors in my neighborhood pushing carts and selling, what I discovered, was corn on the cob. But this wasn’t ordinary corn on the cob has I had known it. Instead of slathering it with butter, salt and pepper they slathered it in mayonnaise, dipped it in grated cheese and sprinkled it with ground chile and a squeeze of fresh lime. I have to admit, at first I was kind of disgusted. Mayo on corn on the cob?! But being a chef and a rather adventurous sort I had to give it a try. Besides how bad could it be? Ultimately it was just corn on the cob. Well, I tried it and fell in love. And let’s face it, what’s not to love; creamy, rich mayo, salty, nutty cheese, a bit of spicy heat, and the freshening tang of lime juice, all backing up that wonderful sweetness of fresh corn.
This week, our CSA share contained 5 ears of freshly picked corn on the cob. I racked my brain, coming up with all sorts of wild and crazy things to do with this corn (and hopefully I’ll get to do one or 2 of those things in the near future) but ultimately decided the best way to showcase such wonderfully sweet, freshly picked corn was to serve up in the ultimate summertime fashion; on the cob. But that wouldn’t be much of a post, which got me to thinking and wondering how many other people had never had corn on the cob done the Mexican way. See how I selflessly put my readers first. Trust me it has nothing to do with the fact that I’ll use any excuse to add as much fat and dairy as I can to just about any recipe…really.
Just a few notes before I get to the recipe. First off, I often talk about how produce is so much better the fresher it is. While this is true of most all produce, it is especially true of corn. Corn is the sweetest the moment it is pulled off of the stalk. Once picked those sugars begin to get converted into starch, losing much of its sweetness at an alarming rate. While supermarket corn, in the middle of summer, may taste pretty darn good, I challenge you to stop by your local farmer’s market, pick up a couple of ears of corn that were picked early that morning and have them cooked off by noon. If you have never indulged in this summertime luxury you’ll be amazed at the sweetness and depth of flavor that you never knew you were missing.
Traditionally, the cheese used in making elotes is Cotija Anejo (Queso Anejo). Outside of cities or in area without larger Hispanic populations, this cheese may be difficult to find. Not a problem. Just use Parmesan cheese instead. As always I will state that doesn’t mean that nasty stuff that comes in a green container and has a shelf life of a million years. Use the real stuff!! Cotija Anejo is not exactly like Parmesan, but close enough that the vast majority of people couldn’t tell the difference.
Finally, when I make elotes, I use ground cayenne pepper as my choice of chile. You could use ground ancho, chile de arbol or even ground chipotle if you want a bit of that smokiness that comes from chipotle, but please stay away from “chili powder.” While chili powder has its uses for this dish it doesn’t work so well, in my opinion. Of course there are plenty of recipes, gracing the web, for elotes that use chili powder, but I disagree with its use here. Chili powder is a spice mix containing, not only, ground chile, but usually ground cumin, ground oregano, and other various herbs and spices. To me this muddles up the flavor a little too much, taking away from the bright freshness of the food.
fresh corn on the cob, still in the husks
finely grated Parmesan cheese (see my rant above about the stuff in the green container)
ground cayenne pepper (or your choice of chile, not chili, powder)
lime wedge (cut limes into 1/6ths)
One and half hours before you are ready to eat prepare the corn. Rip off the exposed part of the corn silks but leave the husks intact. No need to remove them completely as they are easy to remove after being cooked. Submerge the corn in cold water. After the corn has been soaking for 45 minutes to 1 hour, fire up your grill and set it up for direct grilling over medium high heat. Place the corn on the grill and cover, checking every few minutes and turning every 4-5 minutes. Don’t worry, you will have the occasional flame as loose bits of husk or stray bits of corn silk catch fire. Unless your fire is too hot that initial soaking should prevent the entire ear from catching fire. If this is your first time cooking corn on the grill you might want to keep a spray bottle with water, just in case. The corn will take approximately 20 minutes, depending on the size of the corn, how hot your grill is, how often you remove the lid, yada, yada, yada. You can tell the corn is done by gently peeling a bit of the husk back to expose the kernels. Raw corn will have a dullish look to it. Cooked corn will have a slight sheen to it and the colors will be a bit more vibrant.
Once done, remove from the grill and serve. I usually make this a serve yourself affair. Everyone grabs an ear of corn. I peel the husk down to the stem, which I have left on to serve as handle for eating the corn. Most of the corn silk should come with the husks, but it is easy to remove any strays that still cling to the corn. I then liberally slather the entire ear with mayo, just like you would with butter. I probably use between 1 and 2 tablespoons per ear. Next sprinkle with the grated cheese. Don’t be shy…load it on. Next sprinkle with the chile powder. This is a personal preference on how hot you like it. I like medium hot. Just enough to get a bit of burn but not enough to interfere with the taste of the corn. Finally grab a lime wedge and squeeze the juice all over the ear and enjoy. Since the cheese is usually pretty salty no need for any added salt unless you are a complete addict!