Perfect Corn On The Cob: What’s The Secret?
When it comes right down to it, there’s really only one “secret” to perfect corn on the cob: Buy it fresh. I come from New Jersey, where summer corn is so sweet you can slice it right off the cob and into your salad — raw — and for the rest of your life, that bright, snappy flavor haunts your memory (along with the smell of Aqua Net and the sound of 1,000 meatheads misunderstanding the actual meaning behind “Born in the U.S.A.”).
Experts will tell you that the longer the corn is off the stalk, the more the sugar turns to starch, and the less flavor you get when you finally bite into it. Traditionally, you’re supposed to set the water to boil, run out to the field, pick the corn and shuck it while you’re sprinting back to the house. I suppose you could also bring a propane tank out to the cornfield and boil it there, but then Malachi might object.
The point is, the fresher the corn, the less you need to do to it, as evidenced by my handy-dandy chart. (It’s sciencey.) So instead of digging for that one elusive secret, this edition of “What’s the Secret?” is dedicated to the many options available.
Before You Cook It:
Do not, do not, do not remove the husks until you have decided how you’ll cook it. Also, if you do remove the husks, don’t do it until right before you are ready to cook your cobs. They are Nature’s Saran Wrap.
In Boiling Water:
• Do not add salt! The calcium in the salt will toughen the kernels. Some add sugar to the water, but that’s redundant: if there’s one thing corn has a ton of, it’s natural sugar.
• You don’t need to fill the pot to capacity. Only use enough water to cover the corn.
• Add a splash of milk: this brings out the sweetness and makes the corn more tender.
• For perfect timing: Put corn in a pot, fill til the corn is just covered, turn on the heat; by the time it boils, the corn is done.
On the Grill, Four Ways:
• Leave husks on. Soak in water for a few hours, so that the husks don’t burn and instead act as a natural steamer. Grill 15 minutes, flip, grill 15 minutes more.
• Leave husks on. Grill until the husks are black.
• Shuck the corn. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with garlic and basil, wrap in foil. Grill for 10 minutes.
• Shuck the corn. Brush with olive oil. Grill until it’s oh-so-slightly charred.
In the Oven:
• Shuck the corn, brush with oil, put on cookie sheet (with foil or without) for 20 minutes at 350˚F.
In the Microwave, two ways:
• Shuck the corn. Brush melted butter on cold corn; it will harden into the crevices. Twist in waxed paper, microwave for about 1 minute per ear.
• Leave husk on (again, to create a natural steaming environment). 3 minutes in the microwave for 1 ear.
Another Option We’d Never Considered but Sounds Fun:
• 10 minutes in a rice steamer
I think the major takeaway here is the milk in the boiling water. The other big secret is that the word “maize” is actually Native American! It’s from the Taino indigenous tribe of the Caribbean, though, so that chickie in the Mazola commercial probably would not have called it that, if she were real, which she is not.
Psst! What’s the secret?
Find out with all our What’s the Secret articles!