Not a tomato sandwich

So, I turned 33 a couple of days ago. And Brandon, who was but a pup of 23 when I met him, turned 30 a few days before that. Thirty! The staff at Delancey wrote BRANDON TURNS OLD TODAY on the chalkboard and spelled out OLD BOSS in alphabet magnets on the ice machine. He told me that he hasn’t thought much about being in his thirties, but I think he secretly likes the idea. I’m on the fence sometimes, but mostly, I do too.

In any case, thank you for your patience. In my absence from this space, there was a return flight from Ohio, writing, more writing, payroll, a birthday cake, a big project for a friend, and a two-night birthday camping trip that featured an island, seals, jellyfish, porpoises, and a steak cooked over a campfire. I love you, Pacific Northwest! Though let’s not go too far: you could grow better corn. Ohio’s corn beats your corn black and blue.

We had our first rain in months yesterday, and at the markets, summer is clearly giving way to fall. But corn is still around, and Ohio-quality or not, I intend to eat as much of it as I can before I’m forcibly restricted to tubers, crucifers, and brassicas for the rest of the year. (Though I was looking at the brand-new Art of Eating Cookbook last night, and I found myself eagerly bookmarking every recipe that used the words winter squash or cabbage. Weird how that works.)

This time last year - actually, this very day last year! I just noticed that! Weird how THAT works - my friend Matthew and I did a Spilled Milk episode on corn, and Matthew made a spicy sauteed corn recipe that, for me, sort of stole the show. I’ve wanted to make it since corn first showed up this summer, but I got sidetracked by tomatoes and tomato sandwiches and more tomato sandwiches, and it was only today that I finally made the corn. With a few slices of sharp cheddar and some toast, it was the best lunch I’ve had in a long time. Or maybe I was just impressed that I had made something that was not a tomato sandwich.

I might have said it before, but I’ll say it again: Matthew is a terrific cook. I’ve eaten a lot of meals at his table, from carnitas to home-corned beef, Frito pie, green papaya salad, cucumber salad with Szechuan peppercorns, and cowboy beans, and he does it all well. His spicy sauteed corn is not fancy, but it reliably does what I wish every recipe would reliably do: take a few good ingredients and, without unnecessary fuss, make them even better. It makes very good corn taste excellent and so-so corn taste very good. Basically, you melt butter in a hot pan, and then you tip in some fresh corn kernels, minced jalapeno, and a couple of sliced scallions. You stir to coat them in that hot butter, and then you let them hang out, mostly, for the better part of ten minutes, until the corn begins to caramelize. You might notice that it smells like the State Fair, in a nice way. I cooked my corn today a little darker than Matthew does, and it smelled even more State Fair-y, which was kind of thrilling, though I think I like his better. Either way, when the corn is pleasantly browned, you throw in a splash of water and scrape up the tasty browned bits on the bottom of the pan, and they melt into a light glaze that covers the whole thing. Then you finish it with salt and a good amount of lime juice, and that’s it.

If it were my dish, I would call it Spicy Caramelized Corn, but Matthew calls it sauteed, and it’s his dish, so he wins. Whatever you call it, the corn is darkly sweet and sticky, and your lips burn from the heat of the jalapeno, and then the lime juice comes in kicking. It gets very hard to keep a fork out of. I can imagine eating it with almost any meat - or cheddar and toast. Or maybe tomorrow, a tomato sandwich.

P.S. I’m a guest at habit for the month of September, so come visit. I post there as “molly w.” a few times a week. I really love that site.

Matthew’s Spicy Sauteed Corn
Adapted slightly from Spilled Milk

I bought my corn late last week and didn’t have time to cook it before we went camping, so I cut it off the cob, spread it in a single layer on a sheet pan, and froze it. Then, before I cooked it today, I let it defrost in a colander for about 30 minutes, shaking the colander a couple of times. It worked very nicely, and based on that, I am happy to say that you don’t have to use fresh corn kernels for this recipe! You can make it at any time of year, with frozen corn. If it simplifies things, note that you will need 10 to 12 ounces of kernels for a single batch.

Also, I used a 10-inch cast-iron skillet here, but you can use whatever kind of skillet you have.

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Kernels from 3-4 ears fresh corn
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed if desired, minced
2 Tbsp. water
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice, plus lime wedges for serving

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high until bubbling. Add the corn, scallions, and jalapeno, stirring to coat with butter. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the corn begins to brown and stick to the bottom of the pan, about 10 minutes. (You might hear some kernels popping toward the end.) Add the water and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to dislodge any extremely delicious brown bits. When the water has boiled off, add salt to taste. Remove from the heat, and stir in the lime juice. Serve immediately, with additional lime wedges.

Yield: 4 side-dish servings


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