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All About Corn

Overduebook/flickr creative commons

The simple words "corn on the cob" are enough to get nearly anybody lickin' their chops.  Toss in references to butter and salt and you'll hear people's tummies rumbling from down the street.  Here in Maryland we cherish our corn, but since a lot of folks still call it Silver Queen, perhaps a little Corn 101 is in order. Chef Jerry Pellegrino is the go-to guy for this information.

First, some basic science:  we have three types of corn, depending on sugar content.  Standard (su), supersweet (sh2) and sugar-enhanced (se).

Standard corn has the classic flavor profile, but its sugars begin to convert to starch as early as 2 days after picking.  As the starch increases, the charm slips away.

Super-sweet corn has much higher sugar levels, and its sugars convert to starch much more slowly.  This gives it a longer shelf like.

Sugar-enhanced corn is somewhere in between in all respects.

Corn genetics are very easy to manipulate, and regardless of the negative hype at GMO's, all the corn that comes to market is the result of genetic modification of one kind or another, but not necessarily via gene-splicing.           

Good old Maryland Silver Queen corn was first introduced in 1955.  It had a long growing season but a short maturity span, making if popular with farmers.  Silver Queen kept its flavor for quite a few days, which was attractive.

But science produced different variations on the long, white kernelled Silver Queen.  New varieties like Argent, White Magic and 81W took over, and today there are very few acres of true Silver Queen left... which doesn't stop folks from selling 81W as Silver Queen.

If you're going to boil your corn, keep this in mind.  Salt will draw liquid from the kernels.  That liquid has sweet sugar flavor.  Instead of adding salt, add a little sugar to the water.  This is be absorbed by the kernels, and will  mask any of the bitterness that can result from boiling.  Once you bring your water to the boil, add the corn, turn off the heat, and cover the pot.  Within 5 minutes the corn will be ready to serve.

On the grill, you can either cook the corn in its husks (actually you'll want to strip off all but the final pale green husks), or shuck it entirely, and wrap it up in aluminum foil, complete with butter, salt, and seasonings.

Here are a couple recipes Jerry came up with.

Corn Chowder – Tyler Florence


2 tablespoons butter

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

6 cups canned vegetable stock

2 cups heavy cream

2 Idaho potatoes, peeled and diced

6 ears corn

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

Heat the butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and thyme and cook until the vegetables are good and soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Dust the vegetables with flour and stir to coat everything well. Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Add the cream and the potatoes, bring to a boil and boil hard for about 7 minutes, until the potatoes break down (this will help to thicken the soup and give it a good texture).

Cut the corn kernels off the cob and add to the soup. Season with salt and pepper and simmer until the corn is soft, about 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the parsley and give it another little drink of olive oil. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve.

Corn Fritters


3 cups oil for frying

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon white sugar

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cup milk

1 tablespoon shortening, melted

6 ears corn, shucked and kernels removed from the cob

Heat oil in a heavy pot or deep fryer to 365 degrees F (185 degrees C).

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Beat together egg, milk, and melted shortening; stir into flour mixture. Mix in the corn kernels.

Drop fritter batter by spoonfuls into the hot oil, and fry until golden. Drain on paper towels.

Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.