It’s the height of corn season and my local farmers’ market is bursting at the seams with fresh ears of corn. Farmer’s tables are piled high with ears emptied from mesh bags pulled off their trucks. Corn, fresh from the farm. Awesome!
The tables are surrounded by people peeling down the husks and then tossing the corn either into their own bags or, when they find an ear that doesn’t hold up to their scrutiny – tossing it back, husk halfway peeled down.
What they don’t know is that they’re draining away that sugar sweet taste the minute their fingers start yanking the husk.
The best corn comes straight from the field and heads directly to the pot or grill. As soon as corn is picked its natural sugars start turning to starch – a process that can be slowed, somewhat, by refrigeration. It’s best to eat fresh corn right away – but if you can’t, store it in the fridge.
Although you can get white, yellow, or white and yellow corn, the color doesn’t have much to do with the sweetness. Taste is determined by how long it’s been off the stalk.
The husk of really fresh corn should be firm, fresh, and green-looking. The tassel, or silk, should be pale and silky, with a little brown at the top from sun discoloration.
Eyeball it — don’t strip it. Hold the ear in your hand: if it’s warm, it’s starting to turn to starch; if it’s still cool, it’s probably fresh. Don’t worry if you spot a worm or two — they go after the sweetest ears and usually only eat right around the top. It’s fine to just break that part off.
Fresh, sweet corn needs to cook for only a few minutes.
On the stove: bring the water to a boil; drop in the shucked ears breaking them in two with your hands if the ears are too long (cutting them with a knife often crushes the kernels). Let the water return to a boil; boil hard for three to four minutes; remove immediately and serve (don’t let corn stay in the water).
In the microwave: shuck the ears; if you want, spread them with butter; cover closely with plastic wrap or waxed paper; microwave on full power about 2 ½ minutes per ear.
On the grill: Pull down the husks but don’t detach them; remove silks. Spread butter and salt on the kernels; pull the husks back up and twist closed. Grill the ears about fifteen minutes — turning frequently.