Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Mexican corn on the cob: A light in August

August can make me grouchy. Doubtless it’s because I’m jealous that I’m stuck in hot, humid New York City when half the world seems to be relaxing on the beach or lounging under shade trees in the country. And I’m not alone in my testiness, it feels like everyone in the city—save for the happy-go-lucky visitors—are all walking around with scowls on their faces, pushing and shoving and looking plain miserable.

But underneath all the oppressive heat and haze is a ray of joy: the farmers’ market. The growing season is at its peak right now and I am in awe of the glorious explosion of fruits, herbs and vegetables. There is so much bounty I have a hard time deciding what to buy as I want it all!

I like to shop for food so I end up at the greenmarket at least twice a week. And yet with my frequent visits, I’d somehow managed not to buy corn this year. Perhaps it’s because corn gets such a bad rap these days, or perhaps it’s because there’s such an abundance it didn’t feel precious to me. But like all fruits and vegetables, its season is finite and while its presence is inescapable in a myriad of processed products, I try to avoid those so I probably don’t have too much corn flowing through my system. (By the way, if you have access to Whole Foods, its house brands of ketchup, mayonnaise and Worcestershire sauce are all made without high-fructose corn syrup and they taste good, too!) Plus, there’s nothing like eating fresh corn on the cob. After all, I come from a family of corn growers and I have fond memories of running through fields filled with tall, waving stalks; shucking bucket after bucket while sitting on the front porch; sinking my teeth into the colorful varieties my family had harvested; or sharing with college friends my grandfather’s popcorn on the cob.

So the last time I was at the market, I grabbed a few ears of bi-color corn, which is one of my favorite types. These little kernels are like quick hits of sweet sunshine, so tender and juicy you can eat it raw. But I also enjoy my corn cooked, so I decided to make Mexican corn on the cob—also known as elote.

I didn’t eat this growing up and the first time I ever had it was actually here in New York City at one of the more authentic hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants. It’s a common street food in Mexico and its popularity is spreading here as well, as you can find it at the Red Hook Ball Fields on weekends, on the streets of Jackson Heights and at the 14th Street Mexican food stands on Sundays. And while I didn’t eat it when I lived in Texas, my last trip home I discovered that outside of every Fiesta there was usually a cart selling this sweet and spicy treat, which was a great appetizer before roaming through Fiesta’s abundant aisles of Mexican groceries.

Like almost all dishes, there are endless variations on elote, but most commonly it’s a cob of corn slathered in mayonnaise, cotija cheese (a semi-hard, crumbly cheese that resembles grated Parmesan), powdered chile peppers and lime juice. Sometimes, you can find it without mayonnaise and instead drenched in butter, margarine or crema. The corn can be prepared many ways, such as steamed, roasted or grilled. And while it’s often served with the cob stuck on a stick, I’ve also had it with the corn scraped off into a cup with the condiments on top ready for mixing.

No matter how you eat it, however, the end result is always the same: a sweet, crunchy, fiery, juicy (and often) messy taste of summer. I don’t have a grill, so I roasted my corn in the oven and then blackened it on my stove-top gas burner. You can also blacken it under the broiler, though mine is one of those sliding-drawer contraptions and as it’s so shallow I was afraid the husk might catch on fire. It’s best to spread the condiments on the corn while it’s still hot as this insures the fats will melt in between the kernels, providing even more succulent eating. The ground chiles (I like to use cayenne for its heat and brightness) and lime juice are essential for mitigating some of the sweetness of the corn and mayonnaise, and the cotija adds a pleasant salty, soft texture that goes well with the corn kernels’ juicy snap.

I don’t think my corn-growing great-grandparents (or even my grandparents for that matter) ever ate corn on the cob this way, but that’s a shame because it’s a reasonably healthy (if you don’t use too much mayo) summertime snack. And while I can’t wait for August to end, at least I have elote to enjoy while I wait for autumn to arrive.

Mexican corn on the cob

Ingredients:
4 cobs of corn
2 tablespoons of butter
4 tablespoons of mayonnaise
4 lime wedges
1/2 cup of cotija cheese, crumbled
Cayenne to taste

Method:
In an oven heated at 350, cook corn in husk for 25 minutes.
After taking corn out of oven, let it cool for 5 minutes, and then pull husk layers down, leaving them attached to the base of the cob, which can act as a handle.
If you want to blacken you corn, you can either put it under the broiler for five minutes on each side or hold it over your stove’s gas burner. Be careful to keep the husk away from the flames!
While warm, spread 1/2 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise all over the cob.
Take 1/8 cup of cheese, and sprinkle it on cob, then sprinkle on some cayenne pepper and squirt the lime over the cob.
Makes 4 servings.

Note: You can grill the corn or steam the corn; this is just how I make it. Also, instead of using the husks as a handle, you can stick a sharpened popsicle stick into the base or scrape the corn off the cob and serve this in a bowl or cup. If you don't have access to cotija cheese, you can use Parmesan instead.

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57 comments:

LIBERTY POST EDITOR said...

Corn is just about in season here in Canada. Yum. I featured you on my blog!

Terry B said...

Corn on the cob and I have never been much more than nodding acquaintances, but reading this post makes me think we should get to know each other better. I love the slight element of danger, using the husk as a handle to blacken it over the stove top!

n. said...

The first time I had this was seven years ago, standing in a plaza in Oaxaca Mexico. It is one of my absolute favorites, and I've been so thrilled to see it here in NYC. Even at the big street festivals! Often they don't have the cheese there, but I'm happy with just butter and chili pepper.

N.

Andrea said...

After getting hooked on this from the Red Hook Ball Fields, I looked up some recipes which endorsed using Parmesan cheese. Now I feel unauthentic!
In any case, I'm going to be making a trip to the grocery store for corn tonight

themirthmobile said...

i feel in love with elotes after moving to the echo park neighborhood of los angeles. you can find vendors selling these snacks on the streets everyday and they are SO DELICIOUS!

TexanNewYorker said...

This looks incredibly tasty. Gotta get to the farmers' market!

Cynthia said...

This looks soooo good! I love fresh corn.

Christina said...

Here in Southern California, wherever there is street food, there is grilled corn on the cob, slathered with salt, chili, butter, and lime, held by the burnt ends of the husk. Oh, it is so so so good. Thanks for sharing this with the world.

Anonymous said...

This is my favorite way of having corn on the cob! And while warm-from-the-field corn is certainly plentiful here in Central Illinois, cotija cheese, sadly, is not. But like Andrea up above said, parmesan makes an acceptable substitute. This has been my lunch twice this week already. Everyone should try it, thy'd be hooked!

~ Peggasus

Tea said...

I not the biggest corn eater (even before Michael Pollan), and I tend to want my kernels sliced off the cob (is that wimpy?), but you might just convert me still...

Caffienated Cowgirl said...

Oh, so yummy...corn is a highlight of August!

stevet said...

Popcorn on the cob? Tell us more, tell us more....

Sarah Jennings said...

I am desperate to make this...it sounds amazing. So many flavors that I love! I am determined to make it tomorrow!

steph said...

where do you buy your mexican cheeses in the city? i've occasionally seen cotija, fresco or anejo sold, but they are usually made in wisconsin and taste nothing like the real thing!

Homesick Texan said...

Liberty Post Editor--Thank you, that was such a lovely write up!

Terry B--Heh, it is a bit dangerous, not to mention the kernel's can catch on fire and pop as well. But it's fun!

N.--Yep, it's just as good with just butter and chile pepper.

Andrea--It's OK to use Parmesan if you can't find cotija as the two have a similar taste. Cotija is a bit softer than Parmesan though.

Themirthmobile--I've heard it's widely available in LA as well. Great stuff!

TexanNewYorker--Yes, get there before corn season is over, you'll love this!

Cynthia--There's nothing like fresh corn, so sweet and juicy.

Christina--You're welcome! And the burnt ends of the husk make such a great natural handle.

Peggasus--It is indeed addictive. And yes, Parmesan is a fine substitute.

Tea--I don't think it's wimpy to scrape the kernels off the cob--it's much easier on your teeth and less messy.

Caffeinated Cowgirl--Yes! Fresh corn is one of the bright spots of August.

SteveT--My grandfather grew the strain of corn that makes popcorn (it was reddish-brown) and after they were properly dried would give me cobs to pop. Delicious!

Sarah Jennings--Enjoy!

Steph--My cotija cheese was from the late and lamented Kitchen Market (on their last day of business I stocked up on all sorts of Mexican goods) but have you tried any of the Mexican grocers such as Zaragoza on Ave. A? I bought some authentic Oaxacan cheese there recently and I bet they have cotija as well.

Nancy Standlee said...

I've just posted on http://artistfoodnetwork.blogspot.com and referenced your post to bean or not to bean...I found your blog in a Technorati search and it's a great tribute to TX food. I belong to a group of 11 collaborative artists in Arlington http://canvasbycanvas.com and we have started a recipe blog where artists can post paintings of their recipes. A simple corn fix is to peel back the shuck and remove some silk, moisten the ear, fold the shuck back over and stick in the microwave for 4 minutes. Quick, easy and delicious.
http://nancystandlee.blogspot.com

Julie said...

Wow! That looks like great stuff. I've never had elote but it sounds so delicious and it looks pretty easy to make.

Amber said...

I found your blog through my friend's blog (Messy, Thrilling Life). I really enjoyed it. I will be saving this to my Favorites and will be back for many more visits!!

Amber

Lydia said...

I'm not a food snob about anything except corn -- I'll only eat it on the day it's picked, preferably steamed lightly and with no adornment. That said, Mexican corn on the cob is fabulous - it's a meal in itself, and for me, the more cayenne, the better.

Olivia said...

Oh dear. I would prefer to eat it mixed in the cup because corn on the cob with butter alone is messy enough. Adding chili to that would be painful!

By the way, have you ever eaten Olathe corn? Heavenly. Don't get it here in the UK though :(

Melissa said...

Mmmm... I haven't had corn like this in a long time. Just looking at the picture is making my lips pucker and my mouth salivate.

Melissa said...

Oh yum, I would have never in a million years thought of putting mayonnaise (or cheese, actually!) on an ear of corn, but that looks absolutely sensational.

That's one of the things I really regret about living in Europe - the corn on the cob situation here is dire. You can find it, normally in pre-shucked two-packs shipped in from the US, but it's not even worth a tenth of what they charge. Sigh...

Tommy said...

Corn season is upon us in Canada and we have been blessed with a bumper crop.It's seems this year's bounty is bigger, sweeter than years past. I'm not sure of the hybrids I have available to me, as peaches and cream have become the words to use for Bi-color corn, but some are definitely sweeter than others.

Not much in the way of street corn here in Toronto yet, as City Council just passed legislation to allow foods other than "cooked" hotdogs or sausages to be served by street vendors. I know, about 25 years past due. But you can bet that the spiced grilled corn you get in Little India will be on the carts by next year.

btw, I know a guy who sits down and eats 15 or more ears of corn several times a season. He says he is in pain a day or so later, but loves fresh corn so much, he is willing to make the sacrifice.

Sarah Jennings said...

I made it for lunch today...it was so good that I licked the plate (secretly because I did not want the kids to see me do it!). Thanks so much for the recipe!

Olivia said...

Re Melissa's comment - corn on the cob is common in the UK, and in our little India (cf. tommy's comment) they also roast corn and slather chili sauce on it. yum, but ow!

But like I said, corn on the cob we get here, but it's really yellow and sticky, like the corn that's dried in the US to feed to cattle and wildlife!

Tommy said...

Olivia said:
But like I said, corn on the cob we get here, but it's really yellow and sticky, like the corn that's dried in the US to feed to cattle and wildlife!

How dare those purveyors sell you cattle corn. Definitely not the variety for eating. Some breeds are so high in starch you cannot even get the kernels off the cob.

Some strains are being hybrid to feed the ethanol supply chain. Some varieties, the cobs are well over 2.0 lbs each.
Corn is hot, and it is making many farmers hopeful, as it isn't just used to feed livestock and make taco shells anymore.

Olivia, most bi color corn is for eating. That is a safe bet.

christine (myplateoryours) said...

I've been grilling a lot of corn with lime and salt, but this sounds better!

Lisa said...

Wow; this sounds great. Kinda helps take the edge off of summer in NY, eh?

I can get cojita at a Mexican market in town. Must do it and try this corn. I haven't had any corn yet this year and have been thinking, the past couple of days, that I need to.

Homesick Texan said...

Nancy--Cool site, thanks for the reference. And what a great cooking tip, I'll have to try that.

Julie--It is easy and delicious, plus I know your husband will love it with his fondess for Mexican flavors.

Amber--Welcome Amber! Thanks for stopping by and I look forward to seeing you again!

Lydia--Yep, like a lot of things, corn is at its best the day its picked, though slathering it in mayo and cheese and cayenne can improve corn that's a couple of days old.

Olivia--Yep, it's much easier to eat in a cup, and less messy as well. I'm not familiar with Olathe corn.

Melissa--Be careful not to drool on your keyboard!

Melissa--They don't grow corn in Scotland? That does sound dire--I would never buy corn shucked and wrapped in plastic shipped overseas...it must taste ghastly.

Tommy--That Indian corn sounds right up my alley--spicy and delicious. 15 ears at once, eh? That's some serious corn love!

Sarah--Hurrah! I'm so pleased to hear you enjoyed it! You're very welcome.

Olivia--That's a shame UK corn isn't great, but I reckon slathering it in chili sauce mitigates some of the inferior flavor.

Tommy--2.0 lbs??

Christine--I don't know if it's better, the simplicity of lime and salt sounds pretty tasty as well.

Lisa--You'll love it! And hurry up and eat some corn while it's fresh and available...we'll soon enough be drowning in apples and root vegetables.

Kate said...

We have been eating a lot of corn lately and I smother it with lime cream, made from sour cream, fresh lime juice and chili powder. It sounds similar to what you're talking about here, and it is delicious!!

We have decided lime cream is a great summer condiment, it tastes great on burgers from the grill too!

Olivia said...

Tommy - haha, well in the UK we dont get bi-colour corn. We get maybe one type, and it's sold in a package as "corn on the cob". No, we don't even get unshucked corn, gosh how American would that be ;) (I miss shucking corn.)

So whatever they offer, is what we get. OK, maybe there are two types...

***

Homesick - we used to get Olathe corn in Texas. it's from Olathe, Kansas, it's a pale yellow, very delicate and succulent and sweet. Not much in your teeth, I mean the skin is so thin.

Larry said...

so I come out in the morning and say Lisa said this or Lisa said this or did this and I think it comes out about the same as it does to my yellow Lab - blah, blah, blah. But that ended tonight with the corn - about five comments during dinner - damn, this is good, why haven't you done this before, the chicken is good but the corn is............
So, needless to say, next time I mention Lisa with the Nikon - she WILL be paying attention - Oh yeah, the corn is great.................

wendy said...

Yum. I bet my nephews would love this. We stop at produce stands and buy fresh-grown corn on the cob all the time. I never even had this in Texas. Can't wait to try it.

Olivia said...

I just did it! I cut my corn off the cob (it was a sweet one too), and did my best with what I have here - added garlic mayo, shredded mexican seasoned cheese (best I could do), hot chili powder, bottled lime juice, and couldn't resist a sprinkling of torn up cilantro...

An addictive new way to eat corn, which never has been my fave because it's hard work. "uncobbing" it was easy though.

clex said...

here in san antonio, you can even get the corn cut and the mixture in a cup so you can eat it on the road. ohhhhhh so good. (we can even get that nearly year round.) while you're at it, you can get a fresh fruit cup that also oh so good. watermelon, pineapple, melon, mango... all fresh cut. and you can get that with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkling of chile.

Kit said...

I moved to Texas earlier this summer. You are my Texas food guide, and I now have my first question for you! I was in San Antonio this weekend and noticed that some of the groceries were having a "Hatch Chile Festival." What are hatch chiles and why are they special? Did you eat them when you lived in Texas? I am wondering if I should make a special effort to get them (I'm not sure if they have them up here in Abilene where I live) or if I can let it go until next year ...

The Cooking Ninja said...

I love it steamed with a dab of butter and salt. :) Yours certainly looks delicious.

Tommy said...

Lisa said:
"That's some serious corn love"! You got that right. And he does it 3-4 times a season ! Told me he had an incident on the golf course as a result.

And yes, 2.0 lbs ears are being grown. Not sure what type they call it, but they do have to "tend" to it and like a tomatoe plant, they clip off the lower "buds" (miniature corn?) and the end result is "Mongo Corn". You will probably see it one night on the Discovery Channel when they do air a program on "FrankenFoods".

Speaking of corn cobs, what is the mold on the ear of corn called that Mexicans cherish and consider a delicacy ? I've seen Rick Bayliss use it but didn't pay much attention to it. You ever eat the stuff ? If so, what does it taste like ?

Homesick Texan said...

Kate--I'm need to make some of that lime cream--sounds like an excellent summer condiment.

CDO--Love the name Hillbilly Willy!

Olivia--Ah...Olathe, Kansas...that makes sense. And nothing in your teeth? That's great! My least favorite bit about eating corn is how you need to floss afterwards. And hurrah! I'm so pleased you enjoyed the recipe! And I love that you added cilantro--I'll have to try that!

Larry--Ha! Glad the recipe pleased the missus!

Wendy--Fresh corn is the best this time of year. Enjoy!

Clex--What a wonderful fast food! And I love the combination of mango and chiles--sweet and fiery!

Kit--Hatch Chiles are grown in Hatch, NM, and this time of year when they're in season, they become a big deal in NM and parts of Texas. Many places will have a big drum outside solely for roasting them. They're very tasty but not too fiery. If you can find some, now is the time to get them as the season is only for a month or so.

Cooking Ninja--Thank you! I sometimes think that butter and corn were made for each other.

Tommy--You're thinking of huitlacoche--the Mexian truffle. It's very earthy with a bit of smoke and delicious in quesadillas and in soups, among other things. It's difficult to find it fresh here, though--usually you have to get it canned.

Garrett said...

You mkae corn cob the same way my mom does! YUM!

Homesick Houstonian said...

are you kidding me? its ten times more hot and humid in houston and the heat and humidity go way beyond august!

sullicom said...

Hi, Texan. I keep running across mentions of your blog all over the place and thought I'd check it out. I love the corn recipe and plan to give it a point from my blog - http://sullicom.blogspot.com. I hope you'll check me out.

I'm a former short-time Texan, having lived just outside Austin for 5 years back in the late '90s. My post today flashes back on my discovery of Cholula (I know, you can find it anywhere) and Threadgill's (nowhere but Austin).

My blog's still catching fire, but it is growing. Hope you'll drop in from time to time.

Best,
Sullicom

Cenk said...

This looks amazingly delicious! I'm drooling.

San-Man said...

Please, please, please tell me where I can find this stuff in Manhattan (and the location of the other mexican holes-in-the-wall too, please)...After working in Brooklyn for a while I was transferred to Manhattan a few months ago and other than Chinatown/Little Italy, I'm still in need of a few good authentic ethnic restaurants to hit up for lunch...Thanks...I love your blog...

Homesick Texan said...

Garrett--Your mom sounds like she's a great cook--I reckon the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Homesick Houstonian--Well, you've got me there, especially with the October-like weather these past few days.

Sullicom--Welcome! And I miss Threadgill's as well. Happy blogging, it's a blast!

Cenk--Thanks!

San-Man--On 14th Street and 8th Avenue on Sundays the Mexican street vendors sometimes sell it, and it's on the menu at Cafe Habana, too.

Chef Tom said...

Unfortunately, I've yet to experience any good fresh corn this season. But this recipe has inspired me! Got these ingredients on my list for my next trip to the market.

tigerfish said...

What a roasted corn! I don't know about Mex corn- I thought you were supposed to eat the corn on the cob on one hand and bite into a jalapeno on the other ...hahah!

Anonymous said...

"because it’s a reasonably healthy (if you don’t use too much mayo)"

why do we always label a mexican food as healthy when we think it is? i mean, there's a lot of mexican food that is "healthy" or not too fatty, but i find it interesting that there's this tendency when it comes to mexican food, for instance you didn't talk about the healthy-ness of the cookies below because we know they're not! people must be under the impression that mexican food is very bad for your health

btw mexican corn is different, it's dryer and more mealy, its pretty good

Anonymous said...

As a fellow Texas living in Manhattan, I loved reading your recent posting. I haven't found a good Tex-Mex place here yet, but I thought the BBQ at Blue Smoke was pretty good (considering).

Anonymous said...

Walking toward the central market in Comayagua, Honduras.. 15 yr ago, smelled something wonderful, and came upon a little lady and her son, grilling corn, husks on, over a bed of lump charcoal in an old steel car wheel.. was amazed, smelled so good.. later, in a shop downtown, a young girl came in with a basket of the same goodies, and sold a few to the shopkeeper and her staff.. how's that for a midmorning coffeebreak??

Sia said...

There's a Mexican restaurant in Williamsburg called "Bonita" (make sure to go to the Wburg one and not Fort Green) that makes AMAZING elotes! It's grilled to a perfection and slathered with the mayo, lime, seasonings. You guys should check it out if you are closeby. The rest of their Mexican fare is also superb!

Anonymous said...

Cafe Habana, 17 Prince Street Manhattan! Corn...out of this world! Be prepared to line up in this small restuarant on the corner, but it's worth the wait. One bite into the corn and you've got cojita cheese covering your lips followed by a gradual warm taste of freshness. Every year I return and every year I lunch at Cafe Habana. Unbelievable!

Anonymous said...

I have been looking for this receipe since I first tasted this delicious treat at a north carolina mexican style flea market. Thanks for the ingredients

Bellini Valli said...

I tried this corn this weekend and it was spectacular....just like a piece of Mexico in my backyard:D

Yazzie said...

I love this recipe, Once again Im the Texan living in Oregon. One of my fondest memories from Texas, El Paso that is, is the Ysleta Street Festival. They had about 50 or so booths selling different foods and the most popular ones were the ones selling Elote en Vaso (corn in a cup) and they would squeeze lime juice and add the cheese and chilli powder and OMG it was SOOOO good. This recipe reminds of that only missing the cup. Thank you so much for this recipe Cant wait to try it.

Rebecca said...

As an expatriate Californian living in Virginia, I can testify to how delicious this recipe is! I first had corn this way from a beach vendor in Baja California. Fabulous! I've since introduced Mexican corn to my German husband, and he, too, agrees that it's a great way to prepare corn. Cilantro lovers can dust it with some of the fresh herb--I've had Mexican corn that way, also. With fresh corn really coming in in Virginia, we'll have some Mexican corn this coming weekend at a cookout. Ole'!

Anonymous said...

I made this for my family and they LOVE it! Everyone should make it at least once. It's quick, easy and delicious.

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