There’s nothing wrong with being a little corny

Posted Aug. 30, 2011, at 2:11 p.m.

Corn has gotten a bad rep in recent years, with all the negative press about high-fructose corn syrup. But the corn that comes in a can or from which sugar is extracted is almost another thing entirely from the sweet, crunchy, buttery corn that shows up at farm stands, markets and local food-friendly grocery stores.

Mid-August to mid-September is peak season for native Maine corn. According to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Maine growers make a profit only on sweet corn that can be sold as the highest quality — so what you’re buying for dinner is the best you can get.

Corn on the cob is, naturally, the most popular way to eat Maine corn. Whether you boil it in a pot or wrap it in tinfoil and grill it outside, an ear of corn slathered in butter is synonymous with late summer in Maine. But there’s plenty more you can do with Maine corn than just eat it the old-fashioned way. We asked some Maine chefs to share their recipes.

Matthew Lief, a University of Maine graduate and a former chef at the Islesford Dock Restaurant on Little Cranberry Island, which his family runs, shared with us his recipe for Creamless Creamed Corn. Lief, now a chef at T he Landhaus, a gourmet sandwich restaurant in Brooklyn, New York City, cooked that recipe and paired it with roasted or grilled chicken at the Islesford Dock.

“We serve it with our roasted Tide Mills Farm chicken, sauteed swiss chard with confit chicken crispy bits in it, and some salsa verde,” Lief said.

For a down-home appetizer, corn fritters are easy to make, yet impressive for guests coming for a late summer meal. Laura Cabot, who runs Laura Cabot Catering in Waldoboro, makes this recipes for cocktail menus, as well as at home.

“I frequent our local farm stands, like Spears Farms in Waldoboro and Beth’s Farm Stand in Warren. I also favor Clark’s Farms in Damariscotta for their late season Platinum Lady shoe peg corn, which is getting increasingly harder to find,” said Cabot, who has run her catering business for 28 years. “[This recipe] requires a bit of planning — like maybe some help with the frying if you are the host. They are best served hot out of the pan, drained on paper towel or on a brown bag, and dusted with grey sea salt. Good on their own or with a garlic-y aioli.”

Corn can spruce up an elegant main course, and the Maine Lobster Council offers a recipe on its website for Fresh Corn Risotto with Maine Lobster and Asparagus. The risotto is actually the corn, which stands in for rice. The recipe was created by Christopher’s Boathouse in Boothbay Harbor, and while it is time intensive, the results are well worth it.

But sometimes corn on the cob is still where it’s at — though you can put a south of the border spin on by making Mexican Corn on the Cob. This way of making corn has its roots in Mexican street food, where corn is put on a stick and rolled in a salty, savory mix of mayonnaise, cheese and spices. This way of making corn on the cob has crept up the coast and spread across the country, and once you’ve tried it, you may have a hard time going back.

Creamless Cream Corn

Serves 6

2 tablespoons butter

3 shallots finely diced

10 ears of sweet corn, shucked and carefully cleaned of all silk

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon instant yellow polenta

2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon

Freshly ground pepper, salt and sugar, to taste

Scrape the corn off the cobs and set aside kernels. Chop the corn cobs into two to three pieces each and place in a pot with just enough water to barely cover the cobs. Bring to a boil and turn down to simmer for one hour. After an hour strain liquid and discard cobs.

Once the corn stock is done, sweat the shallots in a saucepan over medium heat with almost all the butter and a pinch of salt until they are soft and translucent. Add the corn kernels and continue to cook until they turn bright yellow and are just cooked through (about three to four minutes). Remove half the kernels to a Cuisinart or blender, add enough of the corn stock to cover the kernels, maybe ¼ to ½ cup. Thoroughly blend the kernels to a smooth texture and then return them to the pan with the whole kernels.

Bring the mixture to a light simmer and add the turmeric and the instant polenta. Continue to simmer for about seven to eight minutes until it all thickens slightly. If it’s too thick you can add a little of the corn stock to adjust. Adjust seasoning with salt, fresh ground pepper and a touch of sugar. Add the chopped tarragon, a touch of butter, mix thoroughly and serve.

— Recipe courtesy of Matthew Lief, Landhaus, Brooklyn, NYC.

Native Maine Corn Fritters

Serves 6-8 as an appetizer

6 ears fresh native corn

4 eggs

Chopped chives, optional

½ cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups vegetable oil for frying

Heat a large frying pan with the oil to a medium-high heat.

Husk corn and remove all silk. Remove corn kernels from the cob and also the milk from the kernels should be scraped out.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Combine corn, eggs, chives, flour and salt to make a simple batter.

Test the oil to be certain it is hot enough, the secret of good fried food. Using a large spoon, drop appetizer-sized dollops into the pan of hot oil. Fry until golden on each side, then remove with a slotted spoon onto paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and serve right away.

— Recipe courtesy of Laura Cabot, Laura Cabot Catering, Waldoboro

Fresh Corn Risotto with Maine Lobster and Asparagus

Serves 8

2 Maine lobsters, 1½ pounds

¼ pound bacon, medium dice

4 tablespoons shallots, minced

6 tablespoons butter

8 ears corn, cut off the cob

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon thyme, chopped

2 cups chicken stock

2 cups heavy cream

1½ cups asparagus, sliced on bias

½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated, plus a few pieces shaved

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chives, bias cut

In a very large stock pot, over high heat, bring the water to a boil and add the salt. Add the Maine lobsters to the boiling water and blanch for two minutes. Remove the lobsters and drain them.

Remove the claws and pull the meat from the shell, cut through the head and tail lengthwise, and pull out the tail meat in two whole pieces. Slice into ½-inch thick medallions. Set aside.

Heat the bacon in a large sauce pot. Cook until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp. Add the shallots and 5 tablespoons butter. Cook over medium heat for about one minute. Add the corn, bay leaf and thyme, saute for three minutes.

Add half the stock and turn up the heat to medium high. Reduce the liquid quickly until the mixture thickens. Reduce the heat and add the cream. Cook, stirring occasionally, reducing the cream until it has thickened, approximately five to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Heat a medium size skillet over medium heat. Add one tablespoon butter, then add the Maine Lobster and saute one minute. Add the asparagus, and then add the remaining 1 cup of stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until the asparagus is tender, the lobster is cooked, and the stock is slightly reduced. Stir in the cheese, and add salt and pepper to taste. Set the claws aside for garnish. Fold the rest of the Maine Lobster mixture and chives into corn.

Garnish with the cooked claws, freshly shaved Parmesan cheese and chives. Serve immediately.

— Recipe courtesy of Christopher’s Boathouse, Boothbay Harbor and the Maine Lobster Council

Mexican Corn on the Cob

Serves 6

6 ears fresh sweet corn in the husk

3 tablespoons butter, melted

½ cup mayonnaise

⅓ cup Cotija cheese, finely crumbled, or shredded, high-quality Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

Put unpeeled corn in a large, deep bowl, cover with cold water, and soak corn for 30 minutes, then drain. Meanwhile, preheat a grill and adjust grill rack to five inches above heat.

Grill unpeeled corn over medium-hot heat, turning frequently, until outer leaves are blackened, 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and when cool enough to handle, peel off husks and silk.

Brush peeled corn with butter, return to grill, and cook, turning frequently, until browned all over, about 10 minutes. Immediately spread each ear with some mayonnaise, roll in cheese, and sprinkle with powdered chili, so corn is still hot and mayo and cheese will melt together. Serve right away.

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