I realized the other day that fresh yellow corn in the market has always, always signaled the true start of summer. There was some surprise in this conclusion given that, as an adult, I have lived in Boston, Connecticut, Virginia, back to Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, and finally Arizona.
And yet, summer corn has remained a constant…
So why fight it? Summer corn was clearly meant to be a part of my summer reality.
At the risk of sounding like a dental floss-hating dental floss hater, I will admit that I do not enjoy eating corn on the cob. Which is why these creamed corn cups, or esquites, play a starring role in my summer reality show.
I like to make up big batches of esquites, troughs really, and tweak the recipe just a bit depending on my mood. Fresh corn is so sweet and so flavorful that you don’t need to add much, but I’ve found that corn’s natural flavor can be artfully enhanced by a wide variety of additives, from chiles to bell peppers to fresh herbs to cheese to sweet and savory sauces alike.
Traditional esquites involve mayonnaise, cotija cheese, a bit of ground red chile, lime juice, and possibly some cilantro; while I often like to go traditional, I’ve been loving this green version lately.
Just promise me one thing: you won’t skip the charring of the corn! It just takes one pan and about ten minutes and you must not neglect your charring. Yes, your corn will pop and spit and fight back the whole way, but if you stay strong, you’ll be rewarded with crazy-flavorful, slightly crispened, charred summer corn. Tossed with a bit of mayo, a handful of cotija cheese, and an herbaceous green sauce.
Welcome, summer. We missed you.
4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
3 c. corn kernels (Note that this is approximately 4 ears of fresh corn, shucked and stripped of their kernels.)
3 large jalapeños, charred, peeled, stemmed and seeded
1/2 c. cilantro, packed
3 large cloves of garlic
2 tbsp. lime juice, freshly squeezed
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
3/4 c. crumbled cotija cheese (feta cheese may be substituted here and the cheese may be grated instead of crumbled, although I find that the queso cotija most often sold in American markets largely crumbles when grated)
Heat two tablespoons of oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan pot over high heat. Once the oil is heated and shimmering, add the corn kernels. Toss several times and then spread in an even layer, cooking until charred. Toss again, spread in an even later, and char once more. This entire process of charring the corn will generally take approximately 10-15 minutes total, depending on the heat from your stovetop and the type of pan you are using; don’t be alarmed if the corn pops and spits while it cooks. Once charred, remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, place the jalapeño flesh, cilantro and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process to a paste. With the motor still running, add the lime juice and remaining oil in through the feed tube, continuing to process until uniform. Remove mixture to a large bowl. Stir in the mayonnaise, crumbled cotija cheese, and finally the corn. Serve immediately or store, refrigerated, allowing to return to room temperature before serving.
Note that esquites are traditionally served in individual portions out of small cups or even jars, but you can just as easily serve it out of one large bowl or platter if you prefer.
Note also that this recipe can easily be batched up for large crowds.
YIELD: approximately 4 servings