Summer’s First Corn

It seemed early for corn, but there were good, heavy ears at Middle Earth, piled high in crates and ready for the taking. At the risk of having my Commonwealth of Massachusetts residency stripped from me, I will admit here that I only like summer’s staple corn on the cob rather than love it. Some will buzz through ear after ear, stacking stripped cobs on dinner plates, and go back for more of the same the next night. Me? An ear or two of generously buttered, salted corn over the course of August and I’m good until the next summer.

Cut the kernels from the cob, however, and it’s a different story. Fresh corn kernels are an ingredient I love to incorporate into many different summer suppers. The play of corn with other flavors and textures works for me, turns the vegetable into something much more exciting to my palate. Onion- and cumin-accented corn fritters, sweet and saucy corn relish, herbed savory succotash – the hint of corn’s sugar and juicy bite in one of these preparations enhances any dinner, especially any plate of local seafood, and most especially any meal made of briny-sweet Massachusetts scallops and Maine lobster. I’ll share with you two of my favorite recipes in a minute, but first a few general tips for cooking and keeping corn.

For the freshest taste experience, corn is best eaten the day it is picked. That fresh, you can eat the kernels raw, tossing them into any preparation. They will be tender and pop in your mouth.

If you won’t be eating your CSA or farm stand corn immediately, refrigerate the ears as soon as possible to slow the conversion of the tasty sugar to its chewier version: starch. Either way, try to eat your ears within three days of bringing them home. When the season is in full swing and the CSA share is a hefty dozen or so ears each week, I often can’t keep up with cooking it all. In those weeks, I typically cut the uncooked kernels from the cobs and freeze these in freezer bags for later use. Some people recommend briefly blanching the corn right on the cob and then freezing the cobs. That works too, especially if you are a corn-on-the-cob fiend who would like to munch on ears of the stuff well into the fall.

Seared Scallops with Corn and Peach Salsa

As luck would have it, peaches and tomatoes made their first appearance at Middle Earth on the same day as the corn. I immediately thought salsa. Standing there, I could taste salsa: sweet corn, juicy chunks of peaches, acidic tomatoes, the contrast of a little heat. My mouth watered. Unfortunately dinner was already planned for that night so salsa was delayed a day. If you make the salsa immediately, use the uncooked corn cut directly from the cob.

If you, like me, have to put off salsa for a day or so after bringing home your produce, try pan roasting the corn kernels first. This a tip I learned a few years ago from a New York Times article about using day-old or older corn. With this method, you caramelize some of the starch that has built up, adding an extra layer of flavor and also masking that fact the the corn isn’t just-picked fresh. Pan-roasted corn is delicious in its own right, and will add a good depth to any dish made with corn.

  • kernels from 4 ears of corn, either fresh or pan roasted (instructions follow)
  • 2 medium or 3 small ripe peaches, chopped
  • 2 medium or 3 small tomatoes, or 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, chopped
  • 3-4 scallions, whites and greens finely chopped, or 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • a handful of chopped cilantro leaves
  • juice of one lemon
  • a few drops of jalapeno hot sauce or Tabasco sauce
  • salt
  • 8 large sea scallops to serve four (or two per person, if you have more or fewer mouths to feed)

Place the first five ingredients in a large bowl. Squeeze the lemon over the fruit and vegetables. Sprinkle in a few drops of hot sauce or to taste. Toss gently to combine. Taste and add salt as desired. Cover and refrigerate the salsa until ready to plate.

Pat scallops dry. Begin to heat a large heavy skillet over high heat. Add a think coating of vegetable oil to the pan, and heat the oil until it is hot but not smoking. Reduce the heat to medium-high.

Lightly salt the scallops and place, salted side down, in the skillet. Cook about 2 minutes per side without moving the scallops in the pan so that you attain a nice sear. Turn once and cook the second side for another minute or two.

Serve immediately over the corn and peach salsa.

To pan roast the corn: Heat about an eight-inch depth of corn or vegetable oil in a very large skillet set over medium high heat. Add the corn kernels to the pan and stir to coat. (Take care when adding the corn; the juicy kernels will sizzle and pop when they hit the heat.) As the kernels reach a golden brown on the bottom, give them a stir or a toss in the pan. Stir only occasionally and let the color develop evenly.

This will take about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat and salt lightly, if desired. Delicious as is, with a squeeze of lime and a couple of tablespoons of chopped jalapeno. If using in salsa, let cool before tossing with the other ingredients.

Lobster and Corn Risotto

This is a banner year for Maine’s lobster industry, the haul up from last year’s record 105 million pound catch. Because it is plentiful, it is also inexpensive. We brought dinner lobster home from our trip to Portland and wisely added an extra one to our purchase. Cook an extra lobster along with the evening’s dinner crustaceans and you will have meat for the next day’s lobster salad, or for this super delicious risotto. Lobster, corn, pea shoots, creamy rice? This dish is sublime, no kidding.

  • 1/2 lb. cooked lobster
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 3 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1½ cups Arborio rice
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 4-6 cups good quality vegetable stock
  • kernels from 2 ears of corn
  • 1 handful fresh pea sprouts, plus additional for garnish (1 cup fresh peas a good substitute)
  • 2-3 Tbsp. fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Chop the cooked lobster into bite-size chunks and set aside.

Heat the stock to a simmer in a small saucepan, and keep it on low heat next on a back burner.

Melt the butter and heat it together with the olive oil in a large dutch sauté pan set over medium heat. Add the scallions and sauté about 3 minutes or so or until tender. To the softened scallions add the rice and stir well to coat it with the butter and oil.

When rice is evenly coated and warmed through, add the wine and stir constantly until the wine is almost completely absorbed. Continuing to stir the rice, add a ladleful of broth. Stir constantly until the liquid is almost completely absorbed.

The risotto method continues as follows: Maintaining a moderate flame under the pan, add another ladleful of hot broth to the rice, stir rice constantly until broth is almost absorbed, add more broth and repeat. You will be at the range, stirring the pot in this way, for a total of 30-35 minutes. You may use some amount between 4 and 6 cups of your stock. The only way to know when your risotto is done is to begin tasting at about 25 minutes. The rice should begin to have a softer bite on the outside of the grain with a firm core. Your goal is to reach al dente, where the rice’s core is still a bit chewy to the bite but has some give instead of a crunch. At the end, because you have stirred determinedly for the entire time, your risotto will be thick but slightly soupy, very creamy, with a nice gloss.

About five minutes before you estimate the rice is done, add the corn and pea shoots (or peas) along with a little broth.

Stir. Add a final ladleful of broth only if needed and continue stirring until liquid is nearly absorbed.

Add the cooked lobster and the chopped parsley and give it a few turns with the wooden spoon to warm the lobster through.

Remove the finished risotto from the heat, stir in some freshly ground pepper, taste for salt and add some to taste if needed. Cheese is not necessary with a seafood risotto.

Serve immediately in shallow bowls with a few pea sprouts for garnish.

©2012 Jane A. Ward