Not Your Mother's Creamed Corn
The second in a series examining the foods of the New World and its vast influence on cuisines around the globe.
By Peter Martin
Today corn is the world's largest grain crop, by weight, with over 815 million tons harvested in 2009. This surpasses both rice and wheat, corn's biggest rivals by over 100 million tons each. While the top 3 producers of corn are the US, China, and Brazil, every continent has a representative in the Top 10 producers of corn. Yet, 500 years ago this important grain was unknown outside of North America. Today many cultures, around the world, rely on corn for flour, starch, meal, and oil to use in their national dishes. In both Africa and South America it is one of the most important staple crops.
Throughout the world the most popular corn for food consumption is "dent" corn, a group of corn varieties with a high starch content that is the basis for cornmeal, corn flour and cornstarch. This is also true throughout North America, but the come summertime Americans turn to their favorite corn cultivars, a group known as Sweet Corn. With it's high sugar content, Sweet Corn is picked before it has a chance to dry on the stalk and unlike other cultivars is eaten as a vegetable as opposed to being used as a grain.
When Americans think of Sweet Corn, the first thing that probably pops into their head is that icon of summer, Corn on the Cob, but one of my favorite ways of eating corn is Creamed Corn. Now, I know what you are probably thinking...Creamed Corn, yuk!!! Not that nasty canned, gloppy stuff my Mom used to bake, topped with Ritz Crackers. Well, the answer is yes and no. Yes, I'm talking about that same Creamed Corn, but done slightly differently, getting rid of that gloppy, roux thickened sauce and replacing it with corn juice, which contains enough cornstarch to thicken on its own, and making the whole dish much more lively and fresh tasting. Give it a try. I think your opinion of Creamed Corn will change.
8 ears Corn, the fresher the better
1 small Onion, finely diced
1/2 cup Milk
5 TB. Butter, divided
Freshly cracked black pepper
2 parts Parsley, stemmed and finely minced
1 part Chives, finely minced
1/2 part Dill, stemmed and finely minced
Pick 8 of the fattest, freshest corn you can get your hands on. Once picked Sweet Corn starts to undergo a process where the sugars in the corn start to convert to starch. This starts to happen as soon as the corn is picked so truly, fresher is better in this case.
Remove the husks and silk from the corn, making sure to pull as much silk off as you can. Using a knife cut the kernels from the cob. A hint I learned long ago, to help keep the corn from flying everywhere is to stand the corn cob in the middle tube of an Angel Food Cake pan and cut downward, allowing the corn to fall into the pan.
Even after cleaning and cutting countless hundreds of ears of corn in my time as a chef I still can't get all the corn and the "milk" in the first cutting as seen below.
You can still see plenty of corn left on the cob so the next step is to take the back of your knife and scrape, in a downward motion, the remaining corn and corn milk off of the cob. In the picture below, the blade of the knife if facing the camera.
Add the corn pulp and milk to the cut corn. Measure out 1 1/2 cups of the corn kernels and place in a blender, along with the milk and blend until smooth.
Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat and add 2 TB. of butter. When melted add the diced onions, and sweat them, cooking them until soft without browning them.
Add the corn kernels along with 1/2 cup of water and cook for 6-8 minutes or until the corn is 3/4's done. Season with salt then add the puree of corn and milk.
Cook another 7-10 minutes or until the sauce starts to thicken. Season with fresh cracked black pepper and more salt, if necessary. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining 3 TB. of butter. Garnish with the fresh herb mixture listed above and serve.
This dish will be looser than traditional Creamed Corn, but the trade off is a much brighter, fresher flavor, and while not completely fat free, it is much healthier than the original. I'm not always a fan of lightening up a dish but in this instance I think lightening it up actual makes a much more flavorful, vibrant dish.
When not writing for ChefTalk you can find me blogging about food over at www.onceachef.com.