The dishes we grew up with are the ones we keep coming back to, again and again. Nothing tastes better to me than the tomato tart my mom makes every summer or the crabcakes and remoulade she serves to dinner guests.
Chef Sarah O’Kelley understands this sentiment perfectly. After years of working for celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse in New Orleans, the Georgia native teamed up with partners Chris Stewart and Charles Vincent to open The Glass Onion, a casual restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina, devoted to seasonal, local Southern fare.
O’Kelley shared with me the restaurant’s recipe for creamed corn (see below) – a classic in all Southern kitchens and a true barbecue tradition. The recipe was created by her partner Stewart, who grew up eating creamed corn made by his mother and grandmother, who kept a can of bacon fat on the counter at all times.
“They would have made theirs a bit more simple than ours – bacon fat, onion, flour, milk and the corn,” says Stewart. “We throw in some more nuanced touches like the cream and fresh herbs.”
O’Kelley insists that high-quality artisanal bacon can take creamed corn from good to “wow,” by adding tremendous depth. She’s partial to Allan Benton’s smoky bacon, the only kind the restaurant sources. Additionally, she is adamant in her “waste not, want not” principles, which is why the Glass Onion uses stripped cobs – which might otherwise be discarded – to enrich the dish.
“It’s that idea of using everything, that’s what’s traditional about this recipe,” she says. “You want to get all the flavor you can out of every ingredient.”
The restaurant serves their creamed corn alongside their signature whole crispy chicken leg and mashed potatoes. “It’s like grandma’s house,” O’Kelley says.
Here are some of their other innovative uses of classic creamed corn:
- Add it to succotash. “We use the creamed corn to make our succotash, along with field peas and Creole sauce,” says O’Kelley.
- Blend a cold soup. The restaurant’s Chilled Corn Soup is a bit of a project, but O’Kelley calls it “refreshing, like a corn smoothie.”
- Make a pudding. The chef loves soaking cornbread in milk and cream and baking it with fresh corn in mini cocottes.
5 ears of corn
1 medium onion, halved
About 20 sprigs of fresh thyme, tied in a bundle with kitchen twine
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup chopped bacon (about 2 oz. or 2 standard slices)
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
2 Tbs. heavy cream
1 tsp. honey (optional)
Cut the corn kernels from the cobs and reserve. Combine the corn cobs, half of the onion, the thyme and bay leaf in a large pot. Cover with water, about 12 cups. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 hour. (The 12 cups of water should reduce down to about 6 cups of “corn water.”) Remove from the heat and strain through a colander into a large bowl. Reserve the “corn water” for later use.
Chop the remaining onion half. In a medium pot over medium heat, sauté the bacon until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped onion and 1 tsp. each salt and pepper; cook until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the flour and stir to combine. Add all of the reserved “corn water,” the corn kernels, cream and remaining 1 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until reduced by about three-fourths, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Corn should dominate the liquid component. If the corn needs a little extra sweetness, add the honey. Serves 4 to 6.
Look for their cookbook, Glass Onion Classics, out this summer!
About the author: Olivia Terenzio grew up in Mississippi, where she cultivated a love of sweet potatoes, crawfish and cloth napkins at a young age. A passion for sharing food with friends and family led her into the kitchen and later to culinary school, where she learned how to roast a chicken and decorate a cake like a pro. As a Williams-Sonoma blog editor, she’s now lucky enough to be talking, writing and thinking about food all day.