Today: The mysterious powers of corn milk.
Gem-like rows of corn niblets, still stuck to their cobs, can be pretty miraculous even in their simplest, untapped form.
But the real magic happens inside.
The sweet starch that's trapped inside those translucent kernels is a powerful substance, once unleashed. As creamy as half-and-half (with much more flavor going for it), it also thickens up quickly when heated -- faster than reducing cream, faster than a floury roux, and even faster than its comparatively decrepit cousin, corn starch. And it's just sitting there, waiting to be set free.
We've already seen corn milk put to work in Yotam Ottolenghi's fresh corn polenta and Whitney Chen's corn butter. It can be used as a pasta sauce and shows up in the soothing Vietnamese drink sữa ngô too. FOOD52er gluttonforlife even told me about a corn pudding that's literally just fresh corn slush, baked in a cast iron pan until it's thick and cakey.
But my favorite new means of getting my corn milk comes by way of another FOOD52er, JessicaBakes. She tipped me off to this recipe from Top Chef almost-winner Kevin Gillespie (you remember, the lovable, talented one whose beard has its own Facebook fan page?). He makes a cream-free creamed corn inspired by his granny, with some modern tweaks.
Classic creamed corn -- that thickening of cut corn just till it's spoonable -- has been known to get its creaminess from places other than cream: milk, cornmeal, bacon and crème fraîche, to name a few. But the purest cream of all, as we've seen, can be distilled from the corn itself.
To max out the corn milk factor, Gillespie grates half the ears on a box grater, and shears the kernels and "milks" the other half, then cooks it all for a few minutes, stirring till it gets thick and glossy.
He also seasons it perfectly. Corn at its peak can be so sweet that it barely makes sense as a vegetable side, but here the earth of dried shiitake mushrooms anchors it, softened shallots and garlic give it some savory bones, and lemon juice dials up the tart to keep our palates from drowning in sweet corny cream.
Mushrooms might seem an unlikely partner, with peppy summer friends like tomatoes still hanging around, but they make this the perfect late-summer-slumping-into-fall dish, as ready to pair with roast chicken as with cheeseburgers.
And just think of huitlacoche! Or don't -- maybe that's for the best. Just think of this:
From Food & Wine (September 2010)
Serves 6 (but easily halved)
6 medium dried shiitake mushroom caps
10 ears white corn, shucked
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium shallots, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
Photos by James Ransom