Genius Recipes

How to Magically Turn Corn Into Butter

This week’s Genius Recipe is a one-ingredient wonder from Whitney Wright (plus eight smart ways to use it).

August 19, 2020

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.


This little recipe lived quite a life, until it vanished.

After swirling it into the $275-a-plate white truffle risotto while working the vegetable station at Per Se restaurant in New York City (and finishing her shift spooning it out of a deli container at 2 a.m.), Whitney Wright (1) brought it with her to Gilt Taste, the award-winning online food media arm of the flash sales site Gilt Groupe, where she pitched it as "Amazing One-Ingredient Corn 'Butter'" in 2012.

Ready your biscuits: There's a new butter in town. Photo by JULIA GARTLAND. FOOD STYLIST: ANNA BILLINGSKOG. PROP STYLIST: AMANDA WIDIS.

As Whitney told me, it was nearly impossible to come up with ideas that then Editorial Adviser Ruth Reichl hadn’t heard of, yet this one impressed her. "I don’t know anybody in the world who knows more about food than she does," Whitney said. "And she said, 'This is so cool. I've never seen anything like this—let's run it.'" Out into the hungry world it went.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“to make Southern Fried Corn.. just add salt and pepper, a bit of milk or cream if it seems dry, put it in an iron skillet with a bit of butter, olive oil or bacon grease, stir for ten minutes and Bob’s your uncle! Delicious!”
— donner49
Comment

What the world learned is that, when you wrest the milky liquid from fresh corn (2) (by de-kerneling, blending like mad, and straining away the pulp), then heat it on the stovetop, it quickly thickens into smooth, sweet, spreadable butter. The texture and spirit is a bit like apple and pumpkin butters, but without the need for added sweeteners or spices—and it's ready in four minutes instead of 45. But how?

“Corn is made up of a lot of sugar, particularly the corn that we eat," Whitney said. "And when they harvest the corn, that sugar starts turning into starch, almost immediately.” So the ears that were just harvested hours ago? Eat those right off the cob, typewriter style. From that day forth, they'll be great candidates for butter-ing.

Sadly, since Gilt Taste folded in 2013, the only place you could find the recipe was in our Genius Recipes cookbook, where I’d nestled it after Food52 community member jbban tipped me off. (3) Even Whitney couldn’t access her original version anymore.

There is butter hiding in those kernels. Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Anna Billinsgkog. Prop Stylist: Brook Deonarine.

Lucky for us, she had generously sent me the first draft of the article when I’d asked for it for the cookbook, so now we can not only share the magic of corn butter—but also Whitney’s list of brilliant ways to use it.

So here, resurrected from the churning maw of the internet, are those thought starters."There are a zillion ways to eat or cook with this stuff," Whitney wrote on Gilt Taste in 2012. Her genius suggestions:

  • Slather onto cornbread or a muffin instead of butter
  • Use it on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise
  • Fold it into sautéed spinach with onions, and finish with just a touch of cream for killer creamed spinach
  • Dribble it onto a hot dog (it’ll remind you of a corn dog)
  • Stir it into risotto and finish with Parmesan
  • Blend it with vanilla ice cream for a crazy delicious milkshake
  • Top tacos or fajitas with it
  • Mix it with shredded cheese, a little sour cream, and a jar of drained jalapeños, bake and serve as a LIFE ALTERING dip for tortilla chips

Now your turn. If we can stop ourselves from slathering it on every biscuit and English muffin we see, what else should we do with our corn butter?

(1) After working in food media, restaurants, and an investment fund, Wright is now the co-founder of Athena Collective, a gender equity nonprofit in Birmingham, Ala., and founder of the empowerment theory–driven Elia Fulmen Jewelry Co.

(2) After draining the corn milk to make butter, you’ll leave behind the dry pulp of the kernels. At Per Se, Whitney said it was repurposed to clarify (and add flavor to) stocks, and I think it would be good stirred into rustic breads or polenta. Any other ideas?

(3) jbban had more ideas for corn butter that are too good not to share: “This morning, I mixed it with some softened cream cheese to dollop on zucchini bread pancakes. I can't stop thinking about turning it into caramel, possibly as the base for an ice cream, or just to drizzle on ice cream (peach flavored, perhaps?).”

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you to jbban for this one!

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."

39 Comments

Phyllis B. September 12, 2020
This was a lot of messy work for not enough reward.
 
Laura September 2, 2020
My husband didn’t care for this and I didn’t want to throw it out so I turned it into corn chowder - sautéed onion and garlic, added diced potatoes and chicken broth. Was excellent!
 
[email protected] August 27, 2020
Is the recipe written correctly here? Step 1 talks about the author and Step 2 jumps to After draining the milk.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. August 26, 2020
Thank you all for your great ideas and comments—so much collective community corn knowledge in this thread.
 
Cindy Y. August 23, 2020
We are slowly transitioning to a vegan lifestyle and when I saw this recipe pop up, I was over the top excited! This is so easy to make and Kristin, I took a little out of the pan before it was completely cooled and did your freezer trick so I could taste it right away. Oh my gosh...I thought I'd died and gone to heaven!! So decadent and such an intense flavor. I can think of a million ways to use it, but tonight it will be stirred into the beet risotto I'm making for dinner. Thank you, thank you!! :-)
 
Tawnya D. August 23, 2020
Nice recipe for layering flavor. I’m Thinking about using it next to make vegan corn ice cream. I used the left over pulp to make Mexican corn cake. Delicious and perhaps better with the pulp than fresh corn as the original recipe calls for.
 
Chris B. August 23, 2020
Just how thick should it be? Like a pudding? Cooked the required time and even when it was cool, still pretty runny.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. August 26, 2020
Hi Chris, you can see in the video how thick mine ended up—pudding is a good example. Whitney explained that the fresher corn is, the less-starchy and runnier it may be. You can continue reducing it over lower heat if you want it thicker—just take care to stir and scrape the bottom of the pot so it doesn't burn.
 
FredB August 22, 2020
Can this be frozen?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. August 26, 2020
Yes, it can!
 
FredB August 26, 2020
Thank you. I made a batch of this last night and will use some in a corn and red pepper risotto topped with crispy pancetta I'll be making tonight!
 
valentina August 20, 2020
Made this tonight and it's over-the-top amazing. Like gold! Almost ate all of it with a spoon before it made its way into the refrigerator.
 
Michelle A. August 20, 2020
Yum! I think I’d use the leftover corn pulp for corn chowder, and then serve it with freshly baked bread with the corn butter on top.
 
Jerry August 20, 2020
For the pulp, to go along with the polenta idea, how about as an addition to the masa for tamales? Could it take the place of some of the lard? (Would we want it to?)
 
donner49 August 20, 2020
You can also use the kernels and the corn marrow (?) to make Southern Fried Corn.. just add salt and pepper, a bit of milk or cream if it seems dry, put it in an iron skillet with a bit of butter, olive oil or bacon grease, stir for ten minutes and Bob’s your uncle! Delicious!
 
karen L. August 20, 2020
Yummy ! Thank you for sharing this recipe. I would probably make a chowder with the pulp or honey cornbread muffins .
 
chefrockyrd August 19, 2020
It's a great idea that I will try as soon as I get some fresh corn. Another method I would suggest is to do it the same as you of laying it on its side on a 1/2 sheet pan with sides. It contains the kernels better than a cutting board. I know you are not outfitted in your new place but did they leave you a cookie sheet?
Also a corn cutter for under $10 is the best investment, I have ever made, several companies make them. I make many corn dishes where the kernels are taken off of the cob. They look like a peeler and are hand held. After I cut the kernels off, I scrape it down to milk the rest off.
 
Billiemcmahon August 19, 2020
In the south we have a gadget called a corn cutter. It has a blade to cut the corn and below the blade some spikes which will strip every bit of the goodness out of the corn. They come in stainless steel or a board. Mine is very old and on a board about a foot long. I place a bowl in the sink then the corn cutter in the bowl and zip the corn through. I can do 6 ears in less than 5 minutes. It does splatter a little but I simply clean the sink and I’m done.
 
vb August 19, 2020
Heard you’re in CA....hope we run into you somewhere
 
David H. August 19, 2020
Kristen, I must have been not paying attention. What happened to that stunning rustic kitchen you used to cook in? Did you move? This corn butter looks delicious. I can't wait to try this one. How you come up with these simple recipes is beyond me.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. August 26, 2020
We moved to California, and this is a temporary kitchen we'll be in for a few weeks before moving into our more permanent home. Thanks for coming along with me!
 
vb August 19, 2020
Like me you can cook in these make shift kitchens ....
 
Tracy H. August 19, 2020
You are Adorable & I really look forward to your videos! I've made so many of them on repeat! :-)
 
Andrew W. August 19, 2020
Just to throw it out there: Cutting the ear in half (and also cutting off the pointy top bit) helps a lot with stability and mess when cutting the kernels off vertically.