Sweetcorn is best served fresh. Really fresh. There’s a farmer I know who, on mild evenings at this time of year, likes to stroll down to his cornfield with a stool, a portable gas stove, a pan full of water, some salt and a little butter. He sets himself up in the field and as the sun sets, boils and eats a perfectly fresh cob. He swears there is not a dish on this whole earth to beat it.
The day I first met my collaborator on this column, Jane Baxter, I told her this story. At the time she was running Devon’s Riverford Farm Field Kitchen – a restaurant literally in the middle of a field, which was filled with towering maize stems.
“I know an even better way to eat corn,” she insisted. “Go into the field, pull a cob off a plant and eat it. Go on.” And she shooed us and our children out into the field, where we stripped the husks and the silky fibres from the bulging cobs and sank our teeth into them. Jane was – as she always is when it comes to matters of food – right. Best corn I’ve ever eaten.
If you are lucky enough to live within metres of a cornfield, these are the only recipes you need for corn (though if I were cooking it in the field, I might melt the butter and add a little white wine vinegar and ground black pepper, just to jazz things up a little). But most of us must content ourselves with corn that has travelled some distance – which it doesn’t do particularly well. As soon as the corn is picked, the sugars in the kernels begin to change into starch. Most varieties convert more than half their sugar within 24 hours.
Shop-bought corn is still sweet, and has that lovely milky flavour; it just needs a little more assistance to be served at its best. Here are some of our favourite ways of doing that.
A note on tinned corn: all of the recipes below can be made with tinned corn (although it is tricky to char on a griddle – try grilling it instead). Tinned corn will not give you the satisfying popping texture of fresh corn and the flavour is generally blander, but it will still taste good.