August 05, 2021. Your Gramps always had a small vegetable garden in our backyard while I was growing up, but it was sadly lacking when it came to the one and only vegetable my childhood self would happily eat- corn. Sure, his garden was full of fat, juicy tomatoes, bursting from the sun with goodness; crisp and cool packed cucumbers; and snappy and grassy fresh green beans to name a few of the delicacies, but all of that was lost on my immature palate. But it took a bit of “work” on my part before he ever had any corn. Then, finally, after many summers of my feedback, which he would call “whining”, and probably a smack or two in the back of my head to stop said whining (smacking in the head was all good back then BTW), he finally relented and threw down a small line of corn. Well, that’s all it took because the misshapen and gnarly ears of corn that he produced (I mean there were worms involved people!) and that he made me eat, solved our dilemma and, after that summer, I was done giving feedback and he was done growing corn. Although I can’t prove it, I have always suspected he bought and planted cow corn just to teach me a lesson. Luckily, like most good cop/bad cop households back then (the dad almost always playing the role of the bad cop), your Granny took pity on me, not only that summer, but really every summer, by making frequent, but never enough, stops at a local farm stand to get corn while it was in season- a season that always seemed to end before it really started.
So, now that we are on the cusp of corn season, it’s time to move past those childhood memories and create something worthy of the best corn of the year with Mexican Street Corn Soup. While most would agree the best way to eat in season corn is steamed or boiled, slathered in butter and dotted with crunchy salt, I think the next best way to eat in season corn, is in this soup, which gives you the essence of the corn with the tantalizing flavors of Elotes, or Mexican street corn. In addition to such wonderful flavors, this soup literally uses every part of the corn (husk, silk, kernels, cob) and cooks the corn most every way one can cook corn (boiled, sautéed, grilled and fried/roasted) to create a symphony of corn in your mouth. Some, like you kids, might think that’s an awful lot to do, but it’s really not- about 40 minutes- and it’s totally worth it. Still, if you want to save a little time and some cash, serve the soup simply as corn soup and without any garnish, for elegant and unadulterated corn flavor in a bowl.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes- longer if you have the time for a deeper corn broth
GET YOUR STUFF OUT
- 1-2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 8 ears fresh sweet corn (my ears yielded 7-8 cups/40 ounces of kernels)
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, minced
- 1-2 fresh limes, cut into wedges
Optional Garnishes (Any or All)
- 2 ounces Cotija cheese, queso fresco or feta cheese or vegetarian or vegan alternative, crumbled
- chili powder, to taste
- 1 jalapeño, trimmed, seeded and minced
- 1/4 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt, made drizzle-able with a few tablespoons of fresh lime juice,
- 1/3 cup corn nuts, crushed if nuts are a dental hazard- a very Dad ingredient BTW
COOK AND PLAY
There was much research involved for this week’s Cook and Play selection. The Dad in me so wanted to recommend a song from the heavy metal band Korn (with a backwards “r”- I don’t know how to type a backwards “r”) for this recipe, but found its music just too “intense” and slightly disturbing for happy cooking. Then, I thought I hit jackpot with some country tunes- there is no shortage of corn music in this genre, let me tell you! I mean Blake Shelton basically sings a love song about corn that should make Gwen jealous, aptly entitled “Corn” and “Rain Is a Good Thing” by Luke Bryan, contains the immortal lines “Rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey. Whiskey makes my baby feel a little frisky”. In the end though, I decided to go with a very happy cooking song, “Limon y Sal”” by 5 time Latin Grammy winner, Julieta Venegas, so you can put your 4 years of high school Spanish to use. The title of the song, as I hope you know after all that Spanish, translates to “Lemon and Salt”, which helps a little in the Dad Joke Department, but “Lime and Salt” would have been a bit better for this recipe.
1. Jimmy Cut Corn and He Was Very Careful! Husk corn, reserving inner husk and silk of half (to use in corn broth) and one corn cob (to grill). For the remaining 7 corn cobs, cut kernels off cob and “milk” cobs- See the Lecture if you have no or little idea of what I’m talking about, Willis!
2. Behold, The Magic of Corn Broth. Get your 7 corn cobs and the reserved husks and silk in a large pot, add enough water just to cover, add a teaspoon or so of salt and bring to a simmer. Simmer until you can taste the wonderful essence of corn in the water- at least 20 minutes and up to 190 minutes if you have the time and want a more pronounced corniness to your soup. Strain broth and discard solids- you will have more broth than you need for the soup, but that’s a good thing because you can save it in the refrigerator for a few days or in the freezer for a few months and use it for more good food!
3. “Grill” That Corn. Season up that last cob of corn with canola oil and salt and pepper and cook and char it over a medium high fire, turning to cook and slightly char all sides- a few minutes each side- using a grill, or if you’re not at the stage in you life where you have a grill (like you kids), using a cast iron or other sturdy pan. Use a plate to cut off the kernels off, like you did with the raw corn and set aside to garnish the soup.
4. The Base. Preheat a large pot over medium heat, add oil, onions and a bit of salt and cook onions until they soften. Add the raw corn you cut off the cob and cook until the corn is tender- taste it to see-about 4-5 minutes.
5. Smoothing Things Out. Use a stick blender, countertop blender, food processor or, if you have none of those, a big ol’ fork- which will give you a good work out and a rustic finish- to process the soup in the blender or large pot, as the case may be, with a few cups of corn broth, or more, to get a nice consistency. WARNING: If using a blender or food processor and the soup isn’t cooled you could have and explosive and injury inducing Corn Bomb on your hands and all over your kitchen, so cool it down or see how to blend warm soup safely in the Lecture. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and fresh lime juice.
6. Lots On Top. Serve soup at your temperature preference- even chilled as an appetizer, but I prefer room temperature or slightly warm- and portion into bowls or cups and garnish with grilled corn and any or all of the following: cilantro, a sprinkle of chili powder, jalapeño slices, corn nuts and/or sour cream and lime drizzle.
THE LECTURE- YES, THIS IS A LONG ONE! MOM’S AWAY ON BUSINESS SO I HAVE SOME TIME ON MY HANDS
,Picking Corn. Remember, the sooner you cook or even freeze your corn, the sweeter and juicier it will taste. Just as “water ez zee enimee of flavour!”, air is the enemy of corn- so look for corn that hasn’t been dried out, ears that have vibrant green, not brown or tan, husks and golden, not brown or tan, silk. Also, don’t husk your corn until you’re ready to cook because the husk helps keep it moist! Most importantly, don’t be that person who husks his/her/their corn in the supermarket- you’re better than that and should be able to select prime ears if you check that the cobs have fresh husks and silk, as aforesaid, and you feel uniform and plump kernels, with a gentle touch up and down the cob. If you’re worried about errors, buy a few more ears than you need and return any bad ones or eat or freeze the extra.
Cutting Corn. You might not realize it, but this recipe is just rife with danger- from cuts when cutting the corn off the cob, to burns and explosions from a Blender Bomb and dental work from the corn nuts, but as long as you take some precautions you should be fine. More on Blender Bombs and Corn Nuts below, but let’s start with the most perilous of the three- making sure you keep your fingers out of the way of your knife and your cobs and bowl stable so you don’t cut off anything more than the kernels. As you know, us Dads do worry about our kids, so please be careful when cutting the corn off the cobs and make sure your cobs or bowl don’t slip when cutting the corn off. It’s a good idea to use a folded, damp kitchen towel on the counter and under the bowl to secure the bowl and make sure you check the grip it has on the bowl before you start cutting. Take a look at the photos below to get a feel for the set up when cutting the corn. You can also go next level Dad by using a bundt pan (last pic), which has a deep corn reservoir and corn holder built in, but since I don’t expect anyone your age to have a bundt pan (you need to get out more if you do) you can just use a deep bowl. Once your bowl is secure, keep “handles” on top end of cobs to provide distance between fingers and knife and trim ends of cobs to level (throw ends into the broth pot). Secure the cob in the bowl in an upright position, using your hand to hold the cob handle at the top. Carefully, cut from the top of the cob to the bottom, turning the cob and repeating until all kernels are removed. Use the back of your knife to press down the cobs from top to bottom to extract any corn “milk” remaining in the cobs, turning to all sides have been “milked”.
Do I Really Need To Waste My Time on Corn Broth- Can’t I Just Buy Vegetable Broth? You do! Really, is this even a question in your mind? What are you doing- throwing some corn cobs in a pot to simmer for a bit while you check your Instagram, Snapchat or whatever you do on your phone-? You may see recipes that add onions, herbs and/or spices to the pot, but I would avoid such additions to preserve a clear corn flavor. I’ve also taken the time, because a Dad will do that for his kids, to simmer and taste corn cob broth from 20 to 80 minutes- I used shot glasses to make it fun- which was the general simmer range in the recipes I’ve researched (Yah, researched- I’m not just making this stuff up!) to see just how long you need to simmer cobs to get a nice corn vibe going on in your broth- you’re welcome. I’m happy to say that I found a light corn flavor in broth simmered for just 20 minutes, which makes for a very good corn soup, but if you have the time you can boost your corniness by letting it go longer- check it out and see what you think. Also, for a frame of reference, I needed about 10 cups of water to cover the cobs, husks and silk for this recipe and it cooked down to about 5 cups after 80 minutes- I froze the extra broth to happily use in grits/polenta, rice/risotto or whatever else I might devise one day.
Out of Season Corn Soup or Chowder. Since corn season can be over before you know it, it’s good to know you can still make a very good corn soup or chowder with frozen corn and lightly colored vegetable broth in the recipe in place of the fresh corn and corn broth. For a hearty pot of corn chowder, just add a pound of diced potatoes in with the onions (4 strips of minced bacon cooked to crispy, too, if you like) and add 5-6 cups of light colored vegetable broth- simmering until potatoes are tender and then add 20 ounces of frozen corn until that’s warmed nicely. To thicken the chowder, smash half of it up with potato masher or large fork or with a stick blender. That should make everything nice and creamy without the need for a cow, but feel free to add a half cup or so of heavy cream if you have some laying around. PS- Of course, if you in the mood for in season corn chowder, by all means use fresh corn and corn broth.
RQ Soup. If you want to show off to your friends with some RQ (Restaurant Quality) food or happen to like a smooth as silk soup, simply run your soup through a fine mesh sieve/strainer set over a bowl, pressing down with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula on the soup to get all the liquid out, while leaving the solids behind to feed to the dogs, use creatively in another recipe or compost. PS- With all the solids taken out, you will have less soup, but you probably figured that out already because you’re smart!
Beware the Blender Bomb. My second biggest kitchen mess (the first one involved exploding eggs and egg shrapnel all over the kitchen after I forgot about eggs on the stove while I went out to clean the garage) involved blending a hot and herbaceous liquid in a blender without venting the top of the blender for pressure to escape. This oversight caused the blender to “explode”, which required extensive and tedious cleaning of the glass paned cabinets above. Luckily, it was just a mess and I didn’t burn myself, but to avoid such danger when blending hot liquids, let them cool off a bit, remove the blender cap or processor tube and cover it with a kitchen towel or thick paper towel to keep the contents from spitting out while you blend.
What Exactly Is A Corn Nut? First of all, it’s not a nut. It is corn- a giant, dried kernel of white corn (literally sold by Goya as “Giant White Corn”) that’s been rehydrated and roasted or fried to bring out the inner corniness (like a Dad Joke does for a Dad) of the kernel with a mind numbing crunch. So crunchy, in fact, you could quite possible chip a tooth if you’re not careful, but this danger is part of the allure of eating them- at least to this Dad. What a corn nut lacks in safe dental practices, it makes up for in flavor and crunch- they taste like Fritos on steroids; with deep and rich corn flavor and a satisfying shatter that will leave you wanting more. You can make your own, but since, at least at one point, a 14 ounce bag of “Giant White Corn” cost $15.65 on Amazon (Geez, no wonder Jeff Bezos can afford to go to space if he was selling bags of dried corn for almost $16!) and I was able to get a 9 ounce container of corn nuts at my local grocer for only $3.99, why would you? Now, I know the corn nuts are an optional garnish, but they are well worth adding if you have the budget- they really reinforce the more intense flavor you expect with street corn and their crunch is a great contrast to the smooth soup. PS. I was pleasantly surprised that the store brand I used in the recipe was one of the more delicate corn nuts I’ve had, so I kept them whole without any concern for my teeth.
A Note To The Food Police. This is obviously not meant to be authentic Mexican Street Corn because, first of all, it’s a soup. Still, I am thankful and respectfully acknowledge the ingenuity of the Mexican people who developed Elote and its wonderful flavors and which can inspire everyone to make better food.
Make It A Sauce. When I make this soup, I make extra or try to save a cup or two so I can use it within a few days or freeze it for an instant sauce for fish, shellfish, chicken, roasted mushrooms, roasted bell peppers or whatever you think goes nicely with corn. It makes a great sauce on its own, passed through a fine meshed sieve/strainer, but if you want to gild the lily (I had no idea what this meant for the longest time) a bit of dairy enhancement, in the way of a tablespoon or two of butter, heavy cream or sour cream, wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
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