Magic Ingredient: Corn

Summer's almost over. Dig into some cobs.

August 2007

Etiquette gets shucked when it comes to corn on the cob. For once, we're supposed to eat with our hands, butter slicking our fingers and lips, the mess be damned. Why, then, are we often disappointed with what's actually on the plate?

Certain corn varieties, including those favored by many large commercial growers, are bred to have sturdier ears. This toughness is considered an asset: The corn is better able to withstand rough machine harvesting. Nature also shoulders some of the blame. The moment corn is picked, natural sugars begin converting to starch. If the ears go straight from the field to a pot of boiling water, taste won't suffer.

But most of us don't live on a farm, so what's a corn lover to do? Buy corn at a farm stand or farmers' market, where the ears' transit time is blissfully short. Dave Asbury, who grows some 60 acres of organic, hand-harvested corn on his 400-acre Rocky Mountain Pumpkin Ranch near Longmont, advises buyers to use a little common sense. Look for even rows of kernels and fresh green husks; you might even pull back the husk and take a bite. "If it doesn't taste good then," Asbury cautions, "no amount of boiling or microwaving will make it taste better." With locally grown corn now at its peak, it's time to spice up your next backyard party with this Peruvian corn sauce from chef Alex Gurevich at Limón.

RECIPE: Spicy Peruvian Corn Sauce

  • 4 to 5 ears sweet corn (need 2 cups kernels)
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for rubbing corn
  • 4 cups white wine, preferably Sauvignon blanc
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup canned sweet potatoes, mashed
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon aji Panca (may substitute 1 teaspoon minced chipotles)
  • 1/2 teaspoon aji Amarillo (may substitute half a yellow pepper, minced, and 1 tablespoon ground turmeric)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh mint, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 3/4 cup pisco (white grape brandy from Peru), optional

Husk corn and rub ears with olive oil. Wrap in foil and grill on medium heat approximately 5 to 10 minutes, turning frequently. When cool, slice off 2 cups of roasted kernels and set aside.

In a 6-quart stockpot over medium heat, sauté garlic in oil for 30 seconds. Add wine, honey, ginger, vinegar, and lime and lemon juices to the pot and cook about 15 to 20 minutes, until reduced in half. Add sweet potatoes and whisk until absorbed.

In a small bowl, mix cornstarch with a little cold water until smooth, then add mix to pot, stirring constantly. Let boil for 1 minute, then turn down and let simmer, stirring constantly, until the sauce coats a spoon.

Add reserved kernels, aji panca, aji amarillo, mint, pepper, and salt, and cook for 3 minutes. If desired, add pisco (do not substitute another kind of brandy) and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve sauce over grilled pork, chicken, or steak, and garnish with lime wedges and cilantro.