Big Little Recipes

The Buttery Trick to Better Corn Salads

August 13, 2019

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re making a buttery corn salad in the blink of an eye.

Seven years ago, almost to the day, our co-founder Amanda Hesser told us about brown butter tomatoes—a recipe so simple, you could make it once, then know it inside-out, the same way you know the alphabet or your best friend’s phone number.

“The tomatoes and butter together are mysteriously, deliciously reminiscent of lobster with melted butter,” Amanda wrote. “The richness. The sweet, tender flesh. The exquisite burst of summer.”

This is the sort of thing I can’t stop thinking about.

If you take a ripe, peak-season ingredient, how much should you futz with it? And at what point does the futzing actually make it worse?

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Your writing is just glorious. ”
— Maggie S.

In the case of tomatoes, we know that you need no more than flaky salt, maybe with a spoonful of brown butter or plop of aioli. Of course, you could pile tomatoes in a tart with lemony mascarpone and drizzle the whole thing with basil oil, and this would be wonderful. But the important thing is to know that you don’t have to.

The same is true with corn. By the time the summer is so hot and humid you almost wish it were fall, corn is as sweet as a peach, with the snappy-juicy bite of a cucumber. I want to eat it every day and, some weeks, I nearly do.

I grill it and make salads. I char it in a skillet and add pasta. I steep it in custard and churn ice cream.

But on an especially sweaty, sleepy night, the best thing to do is not cook it at all.


Just use your sharpest knife to strip the kernels from the cob, toss them with minced chives—tender and grassy, they taste like onions before onions realized that life is hard—and a pinch of salt. (Then one more pinch for good measure.)

Add a hunk of butter and some Fresno chile slivers to a skillet. A Fresno chile’s spiciness is on-par with a jalapeño, but the flavor is riper and fruitier and, if you ask me, better. As the chiles crisp, the butter browns, and they both become brighter and more delicious.

Right before the butter burns, pour it all over the raw corn. Now, this is the important part: Stir, so each kernel is dressed to the nines, then eat immediately. The butter should be warm and melty, like popcorn at the movie theater.

Once you start brown-buttering fresh ingredients—Amanda has tried this with raspberries, too—I have a hunch that you’ll find it hard to stop. And this is a good thing. There are still weeks of summer left.

What’s the easiest corn recipe you know? Tell me about it in the comments!
Order now

Put down those long grocery lists. Inspired by the award-winning column, our Big Little Recipes cookbook is minimalism at its best: few ingredients, tons of flavor.

Order now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • jaxcat
  • Maggie Slover
    Maggie Slover
  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


jaxcat August 25, 2019
Brown butter sage pasta is also amazing right now.
With corn, I cut it off the cob then steam it and add fresh butter and a good helping of truffle salt.
Maggie S. August 13, 2019
Your writing is just glorious.
Emma L. August 13, 2019
Aw thanks, Maggie!