One of the world’s most important foods, corn is never better than when it’s fresh and sweet at the height of summer. Enjoy it on the cob as a simple side dish at a cookout, or cut off the kernels to add to soups, salads and quick lunches. Here are some of our best tips for choosing and working with corn, plus new recipe ideas from the Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen.
Corn: Everything You Need to Know
What to Look For
Corn is at its best when just picked — you can usually find the freshest ears at the farmers’ market. Look for ears with green husks and no signs of browning or drying. They should feel cool, never noticeably warm. The silk, or tassels, should be pale yellow and moist. The kernels should be tightly packed in even rows and look plump and juicy. When you tear back the husk to look at the corn, you’re shortening its shelf life; once the husk is removed, the corn begins to lose moisture and freshness more quickly. Keep fresh sweet corn wrapped in its husks in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook it, ideally for no longer than a day.
Not all corn is yellow. Some types are white or a mixture of white and yellow kernels. Blue corn, grown in the Southwest and Mexico, is used mainly for chips, cornmeal and flour. Popcorn is used for only one thing.
Strip the husks and silk from the ears, snapping the leaves off the bottom along with any remaining stem (unless you want to keep it as a handle for eating). To remove stubbornly clinging strands of corn silk, scrub the corn with a vegetable brush under cold running water. You can boil, roast or grill corn whole, or cut the kernels from the cob to saute and steam.
Your Toolkit for Fresh Corn
- Kuhn-Rikon Corn Zipper, for trimming corn kernels off the cob
- Portable Gas Grill, to grill corn for picnics, tailgates, camping trips and more
- Stainless-Steel Fry Pan, to saute corn kernels (and fry fritters!)
- Silicone Basting Brush, for brushing cobs with oil and butter
Purists cook corn on the cob only until warmed through, either boiled or steamed, to preserve its sweetness and crunch. Cut from the cob, the fresh kernels can be added raw to salads and salsa, cooked until creamy for soups and chowders, deep-fried in fritters, or folded into savory quickbreads and fillings. You can also drop fresh corn into boiling water and cook it quickly, roast it in the oven or grill it on a barbecue, usually brushed first with oil or butter and wrapped in foil. Crisp corn kernels need just a sprinkling of salt and pepper or a pat of butter to taste delicious.
Flatbread with Corn, Peppers & Goat Cheese: Roll out pizza dough and top with tomato puree. Top with corn kernels, roasted red bell peppers and thinly sliced red onion. Dot with goat cheese. Bake in a 500°F oven until dough is crisp and cheese is melted. Garnish with fresh basil.
Barley Salad with Grilled Corn: Slice summer squashes lengthwise into planks. Drizzle squash and shucked corn with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until tender. Dice squash and cut kernels from cob. Whisk together champagne vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss corn, squash and cooked pearled barley with vinaigrette and chopped mint and dill.
Quick Corn Chowder: Saute minced shallots in butter until softened. Add corn kernels, diced potatoes, chopped thyme, chicken or vegetable broth, salt and pepper; cook until potatoes are tender. Stir in half-and-half and chopped basil.
Corn Fritters: Cut kernels from 4 ears of corn; toss with 1 beaten egg, salt, pepper and 2 to 3 Tbs. flour. Refrigerate batter 30 minutes. Warm a thin layer of oil in a fry pan, drop in large spoonfuls of batter and cook, turning once, until golden brown.
Corn & Black Bean Salad: Toss corn kernels with black beans, sliced green onions, chopped cilantro, diced jalapeno, diced red onion, diced avocado and diced tomato. Season with salt, lime juice, cumin, olive oil and red wine vinegar.
Mexican Street Corn: Shuck corn, rub with oil and season with salt. Grill over high heat until tender and nicely marked. Brush with mayonnaise, sprinkle with cayenne and roll in finely crumbled cotija or feta cheese; serve with lime wedges.