I grew up with the mistaken notion that there was only one way to cook sweet corn. On the cob, in a pot. Since my sweet corn coming of age, I've witnessed a lot of backyard bickering about which technique is best. Perched precariously on the side of a grill, husks stripped back and ears exposed mercilessly to the flames. Wrapped in foil, husks intact and shoved among smoldering coals. Suffocated in plastic wrap and nuked on high. Microwaved until almost tender then grilled for good measure. Plunged into boiling water for 183 seconds. (Or was that three seconds shy of eight minutes?)
Everyone, it seems, thinks he knows the secret to cooking corn. Thanks to personal curiosity and, at times, begrudging politeness, I've sampled the upshot of every technique imaginable. But my preference? Corn off the cob.
Sweet corn takes on an entirely new character when it's shaved from the cob, tossed with a scant amount of oil and exposed to high heat. The sugars caramelize, the corn flavor intensifies and the kernels crisp and literally pop.
This unconventional approach to sweet corn was less a conscious choice than it was a coping mechanism. Today's fancy sweet corn hybrids -- Silver Queen, Kandy Korn, White Platinum Lady -- don't taste bad, but they don't taste much like corn to me. At least not the old-fashioned corn of my childhood, which came from a field situated about a half a minute's sprint from our farmhouse in Iowa. That sweet corn tasted uniquely, robustly, unmistakably like . . . well, sweet corn.
And so I came to this off-the-cob approach out of desperation. While boiling, nuking and even grilling corn only serve to amplify its engineered sweetness, roasting seems to draw out its essential corniness. Then again, maybe the surprise of the texture distracts from the flavor.
Once they're roasted, corn kernels may be strewn atop salad greens or tossed into summer side dishes at whim, though I prefer their simplest incarnation: drizzled with more oil or topped with a chunk of butter and seasoned unjudiciously with salt.
Just as one would with corn on the cob.