BY TOM YATES
In my book, summer kicks off when roadside corn trucks dot the rolling country roads and flat bed trucks, stacked high with corn, back into stalls of the farmers market. Caught up in the corn frenzy, wispy silks fly through the air and float gently to the ground as people tear back husks to inspect the hidden jewels. Tender, sweet, and fresh enough to eat raw, few things top the arrival of locally grown corn.
By Labor Day, we’ve tried it all. Boiled, steamed, grilled, creamed, or fried, fresh summer corn kindles memories of cookouts and summer picnics.
Back in the day, my grandmother fried her garden corn.
She’d heap spoonfuls of leftover salty bacon fat in a large cast iron skillet and fry the cut-off kernels until they caramelized and crunched like popcorn. While she creamed a few batches from time to time, boiled whole cobs rarely hit the table. She was the fry queen.
As summer moved along, my grandmother instinctively morphed into her ‘depression era’ saving mode, canning the remaining bounty of corn for the leaner times. While her straight up canned corn lost its luster after overwintering in the dusty grim cellar, her preserved corn relishes survived bright and piquant.
When my family settled into our own home on the far side of the family farm, my parents took a more modern approach with our garden corn. Bacon fat wasn’t invited to the party. Picked fresh from the garden, it was either meticulously shucked and de-silked before a quick steam or cut from the cob, milked, and briefly sauteed. Salt. Pepper. Butter. Corn. Heaven.
During peak season, the endless extra hauls of corn got shucked, cut off, milked, blanched, and frozen. A family history of fresh garden corn. Different generations. Different takes. All fabulous.
Nowadays, I’m all over the place when the corn starts rolling in. I love it bacon-wrapped, chargrilled, boiled, steamed, creamed, pureed, pan fried, sauteed, or souffled, Few things can beat corn pudding, spoonbread, or corn bread made with fresh peak season corn.
I take it one step further and toss whole ears of corn into a deep fryer. The intense heat of the fryer quickly caramelizes the corn while simultaneously steaming the inside of the kernels. Slathered in butter, it takes me back to my grandmother’s table, sans the extreme crunch and leftover bacon fat.
Deep Fried Corn.
Simple. Quick. Fantastic.
Lime Chive Butter.
I brought 5 tablespoons of unsalted butter to room temperature before adding 1/2 teaspoon white pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice, and 3 tablespoons snipped garden chives.
I set the butter aside and cranked a deep fryer to 350 degrees.
Typically, I fry whole ears of corn. For more manageable smaller corn bites, I cut them down a notch. After shucking and cleaning six ears of Wayne County bi-colored corn, I trimmed the ends before slicing the ears into 1 1/2” discs.
Working in batches, to not overcrowd the deep fryer, I carefully lowered the corn into the hot oil for about 3-4 minutes. When they started to crisp around the edges and caramelize, I tumbled them onto a parchment paper-lined sheet pan, slathered them with the chive-flecked lime butter, and stabbed them with toothpicks before finishing with flaky sea salt, a splash of lime, and additional chives.
Kissed by the hot corn, the lime-infused butter slowly melted through the crevices of the crispy caramelized kernels, puddling underneath for easy dipping and swiping. While the lime countered the rich buttery fat with subtle bright acidity, the snipped chives and salt provided fresh grassy crunch. Dip. Swipe. Repeat.