Mexican Corn Salad is a riff on the south-of-the-border street food classic – grilled corn served with lime, mayo and cheese. Except there was no room on our grill, so Jody’s sister Ginny, the creator of the dish, threw it in the oven just to see what would happen. It didn’t get smokey or charred, the way it would have on the grill, but it worked out fine nevertheless. Testing the salad four times in the last two weeks (i.e. feeding our kids and their friends), confirmed what we’ve always suspected: whether the corn is local or not is way more important than whether it’s cooked on the grill or in the oven. We sampled corn from Whole Foods, from a farmers market down on the Cape and from our neighbor outside of Boston, Allandale Farms. That latter two choices made corn salads that sing – the Whole Foods option was okay (the kids hoovered it up), but not in the same league as the farm stuff. Don’t cheat yourself. If you’ve got local corn available, use it–even if you just steam it. People get a little loopy about corn, perhaps because it shows up so late in the season. I’ve seen people who would sneer at an out of state tomato pawing through a mound of imported supermarket corn in June, obsessively wrenching apart the husks to peer into the crown, invariably disappointed. What are they hoping to find? Do they really think that the starchy ears trucked in from ten states away will be any good? Have tomatoes taught them nothing? If peace, love and happiness aren’t growing in your own back yard–at least when it comes to corn and tomatoes–then they probably aren’t growing anywhere at all.
Here’s another wrinkle: to my palate all corn intended for human consumption is growing sweeter and sweeter, local or not. As a kid in the rural Midwest, I used to listen to my mother pine during the months of June and July, then wax ecstatic when the local silver queen showed up in farm stands in August. Small, with rows of pearly kernels perfect as gerbil teeth, silver queen was markedly sweeter than other varieties. And you did one thing with it – you brought it home and cooked it that night. By the next morning its fabled sugar would have transformed into starch. Now, almost all corn is quite sweet, assuming it’s fresh, and it tends to stay sweet longer, the result of hybridization, I suspect. With American food, if a little sweetness is good, then a lot of sweetness must be fabulous.
So it should come as no surprise that hot + sweet (sound familiar, BBQ fans?) is what propels this salad. You can modulate the heat according to your taste and tolerance, but if you make it with local corn, now that August is in full swing, it will be great. Enjoy. Ken
Note: Jody collected the shells on a beach off Sandy Neck, in Barnstable. “Hey, look what I found–photo props!”
GINNY’S MEXICAN CORN SALAD
Makes 8 side servings
- 6 super fresh ears corn
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup mayonnaise, homemade or jarred (we like Hellman’s, if we’re not making our own)
- 1-2 canned chipotle peppers, finely chopped–they’re spicy, so adjust to your heat tolerance.
- 2 limes, one juiced and the second cut into 8 wedges
- 1 red bell pepper, peeled and chopped into ¼-inch dice
- 2 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced, then chopped crosswise
- 6 ounces queso fresco crumbled
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
- Preheat the oven to 500ºF.
- Set the corn on rack on a sheet pan with at least 1 inch between ears. Use 2 sheet pans if necessary.
- Roast in the bottom of the oven for 10 minutes. Turn the corn over and roast another 10 minutes. The outside husks should get a little toasty. Remove from the oven.
- When cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes, remove the husk and silk from the corn.
- Slice the kernels off the cob and transfer to a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper and allow to cool completely.
- In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise with the chipotle and lime juice. Add to the corn and toss well. Add the remaining ingredients and toss again. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Serve cold or at room temperature with a wedge of lime.
A few weeks ago, we had a party on the Cape. This was a salad that my sister Ginny made. It was fabulous. She also made a version with parsley, rather than cilantro, for the folks who don’t like cilantro, it was equally good.
The weekend before, we’d cooked for 20+ people after the first day of the PMC at my friend Marcy’s house. She’s a saint. She opens up her house to the team so we all have a beautiful and comfortable place to sleep between the two days of riding. The dinner is always a bit of a blow out and we ran out of grill room so I improvised by roasting corn in the oven. We had taken the husks off, but I like the idea of doing it this way. It’s much easier to take the silk off the cobs. If you want more of a char flavor and color, remove the husks before roasting.
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