The final test: plunging the tip of a key into a kernel to make sure its liquid is sweet and white, with the consistency of nonfat milk.
How to judge corn sweetness, and which corns will stay sweeter longer
As I walk away with my bag of well-vetted specimens, the thought always passes through my mind how happy my partner will be to have corn on the cob for dinner. His favorite. The next thought is, what else can I do with it? Because of its dual personalities as a vegetable and a grain with sweet and savory properties, corn is a chef’s dream. That’s why it shows up on every part of restaurant menus, soup to dessert.
I’ve done corn cakes (that was 2o years ago; “Johnnycakes” are a trending “new” dish in hip restaurants today), corn relishes, chowders, soups. I’ve fried corn, sauteed it and baked it. I’ve rolled a roasted carrot covered with herbed goat cheese in it to resemble corn-on-the-cob.
Yet chefs still manage to devise fresh approaches. At Fiola in Penn Quarter, Fabio Trabocchi makes a lush corn gazpacho and pairs it with delicate Maryland blue crabmeat, while his pastry chef, Tom Wellings, churns silken corn ice cream.
With some of my last column’s inspiration — the work of Momofuku pastry chef Christina Tosi — still in my head, I resolved to make a corn milk less sweet than hers and more corn intense. Instead of using Cap’n Crunch cereal, as Tosi did, I made a puree of kernels cut from a plump, fresh ear; freeze-dried corn (very intense; Tosi uses it for chewy corn cookies); Corn Pops cereal, which is oddly not as sweet as you’d think; and warmed evaporated milk, for its subtle caramel flavor. Then I steeped the puree in cold milk for an hour and strained it. Rather simple, really.
What resulted was a slightly sweet, thick but fairly neutral corn-centric liquid. That there was raw corn in it would reduce its shelf life to a couple of days, I discovered.
Here’s how I cut kernels off the cob, by the way: I place a cob flat on a cutting board and use a bread knife to cut the kernels from each side, treating the ear like a rectangular cube. Then I go back and shave the corners to get any missed kernels .
The first idea I had in mind for the milk was corn pudding for dessert. For extra texture and eye appeal, I thought to caramelize sugar, add fresh corn to it and turn it out on a baking sheet to see whether I could break it into brittle for layering.