The Midwest may be in a drought, but thankfully I'm still finding locally grown fresh sweet corn at farmers markets and roadside stands. I prefer shopping at roadside stands, but to be honest, it doesn't really matter where you buy your corn as long as it's crisp and fresh and cooked to perfection every time you crave those golden sweet kernels of goodness.
According to the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, sweet corn is a genetic mutation of field corn, producing kernels consisting mostly of sugar rather than starch. That sugar in the kernels, however, converts to starch soon after its prime harvest stage.
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Recent sweet corn hybrids have been bred for even higher sugar content and slower conversion of sugar to starch, resulting in its ability to maintain maximum flavor and tenderness longer when stored in the refrigerator at as close to 32 degrees as possible. Bicolor, Triple Sweet, Honey Select, Mirai (grown in far northwest suburban Harvard) and Bon Appetit are just a few varieties you might spot at local markets.
It seems everyone has their own way of preparing corn. My mom would plunge fresh corn into boiling water after painstakingly removing all husks and silks. Minutes later, our family would slather on the butter, sprinkle on the salt and devour row after row of tender kernels. This cooking technique works well as long as you have a pot large enough to hold the several cobs. But what if you don't own a big pot? Then what?
I stumbled across the answer a few years ago when hosting a large family cookout. The solution was right in front of me stocked with ice, soda and beer: a cooler.
I started with a clean large hard-sided plastic cooler, I put the shucked corn in and added enough boiling water to cover all the ears. I closed the lid and ignored it for about an hour. I put a pair of tongs, butter and salt nearby so guests could serve themselves. Prepared this way the corn stayed hot and didn't get over cooked.
As much as I love corn on the cob, I do not like removing the husks and then scrubbing each ear with a vegetable brush, or some other gadget, to remove the silks. Despite my best attempts to keep them confined, the silks often end up all over my kitchen floor.
I learned an interesting no-shuck cooking method from TV chef Tyler Florence. He placed still-in-the-husk sweet corn directly on oven racks in a 350-degree oven and roasted them for 30 minutes, or until the kernels were soft. When he peeled down the husks and the silks fell right off. It wasn't just the magic of TV; it worked in my kitchen too and this is now my preferred method of preparing sweet corn.
I don't know about you, but I usually end up buying corn by the dozen, often leaving me with extra ears after my family of six has eaten its share. Yet it never goes to waste. We look forward to "leftover" corn and will pop it in the microwave for a few seconds to bring it back to its butter-melting glory.
I also cut the kernels off the cob and add them to salsas and salads, like the one I'm sharing today.
Sweet corn, like summer, is here for such a short time ... we should enjoy it to its fullest.
• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the Daily Herald's 2011 Cook of the Week Challenge.