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Endless Summer Corn Sautés

Fine Cooking Issue 87
Photos: Scott Phillips
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In the Delaware summers of my childhood, there were some things as certain as death and taxes. My uncles fished for flounder and drank Budweiser. We kids picked crabs, snapped green beans, and shucked corn almost daily. And in August, we all battled the horseflies for beach plums to make into jelly and turned ripe, drippingly juicy Delaware peaches into the best hand-cranked homemade ice cream you’d ever taste.

The not-so-secret ingredient in that ice cream was the rich heavy cream (43% fat) from our local Lewes Dairy. We poured that cream on everything, including Kellogg’s Special K. But our favorite destination for that cream was my grandmother Honey’s succotash—a simple dish made from my father’s pole beans, our local Silver Queen corn, a bit of cream and butter, and a lot of freshly ground pepper.

There was never a call to do anything different with all that fresh corn we were blessed with. (Before the rise of housing developments and the popularity of retirement, Delaware was like one big cornfield conveniently laced with brackish streams for the blue crabs to live in.) Corn was either served on the cob or off in that succotash.

All these years later, I still love good, sweet fresh corn, simply prepared. But I also like variety, which is why I had so much fun coming up with these corn side dishes. Once you grasp the simple technique of sautéing the ingredients and adding flavor in stages, you can vary the character of these dishes by adding different aromatics, other vegetables, fresh herbs, and even (gasp!) a little heavy cream.

Use these sautés for more than just side dishes. Aside from being able to tailor the flavors of these dishes, you can also choose how you’d like to serve them. For instance, I like to serve my Corn, Sweet Onion & Zucchini Sauté as a bed for grilled fish. The Corn & Mushroom Sauté with Leeks & Pancetta is a great topping for a grilled steak. Or you could use any variation as a taco or quesadilla filling, a base for a frittata, or of course, a simple side dish on its own. It’s your choice; the only thing that’s certain is this: If you get tired of plain old corn on the cob, you can cut the kernels off and turn them into something exciting.

A tidy way to cut corn

To prepare corn for sautéing, first shuck the ears and remove all the silks by running your hands up and down the ear. Then break the ears in half cleanly. (I find using my hands to do this is easiest and safest, but you can cut them in half with a sharp chef’s knife, too.) Stand each half cut side down on a large clean dish towel placed over a cutting board. Cut the kernels off the cob with a sharp chef’s knife and a downward sawing motion, cutting around the ear to remove all the kernels. Discard the cobs or save for a soup stock. Gather the towel up and dump the kernels into a bowl.


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