I love sinking my teeth into a fresh ear of sweet corn. My grandfather on my mom’s side, Papa Sam, grew it on his farm in Herscher, Illinois, and would sell it to folks driving by along the road. The stand consisted of whatever was picked at the farm that day, plus an old cigar box. Anyone could come up and grab what they liked, leaving the a few dollar bills in the box when Papa Sam wasn’t there.
Living in Chicago, I unfortunately don’t get the privilege of choosing produce from a roadside stand, nor would anyone dream of leaving a cigar box full of cash sitting around. But the corn is plentiful at both farmers markets and the grocery store come July and August, so I take advantage.
Are there any mayonnaise haters out there? I’m with you. I’ve tried it over and over but my aversion continues.
So of course that means that I do not like elote, the popular Mexican street food. I was feeling a little left out of the elote party recently so I concocted my own recipe using some of the same flavors.
Traditional elote is made with mayonnaise spread over an ear of corn, then topped with chile powder and lime juice. I nixed the mayonnaise, kept the chile powder, and changed the lime juice to lime zest. Then I added a few more seasonings from my pantry: smoked paprika, brown sugar, and cumin.
The smoked paprika adds a subtle smokiness, which is particularly handy if you’re not cooking it on an outdoor grill. The brown sugar adds a little molasses-like sweetness, and the cumin sends your taste buds south of the border (it’s a popular seasoning for tacos and fajitas).
You know those people who stand in the grocery store and husk ears of corn? If I’m cooking the corn that evening, that’s me standing with them. Those silky strands tend to make their way in every crevice of the kitchen, so I prefer to leave the mess at the grocery store.
There are all kinds of methods for cooking corn, and you really can’t go wrong unless you overcook it. I prefer to husk it first and leave it bare, which invites those delicious grill marks and charred bits that I love eating! I place the ears directly on a medium-high grill to get some nice grill marks, rotating it frequently. If it doesn’t seem quite done, I’ll set it off to the side to finish cooking over indirect heat. Once the kernels start shriveling, it means it’s overcooked, so watch carefully!
Recently I’ve been without a grill, so I cooked this corn in a cast iron indoor grill pan. Since the pan doesn’t have a cover, I improvised by adding a little water to the bottom of the grill pan and putting a piece of foil over the top so it would steam.
When I was testing this recipe, I was cooking for a friend who is dairy-free. I subbed olive oil for the butter and it turned out great. You could also use canola oil or another somewhat neutral flavored oil (chile powder will mask most anything!). We ate it with these Sheet Pan Steak and Chicken Fajitas, and the whole meal got a huge seal of approval from my husband Longe and our friend Austin.
Are there any foods that remind you of your childhood summers? Corn on the cob tops my list, plus fresh peaches and fresh green beans. I also distinctly remember washing carrots under the water pump at Papa Sam’s farm and picking strawberries from the patch. You just can’t beat that fresh picked taste!
Chile Rubbed Corn on the Cob
Yield 4 ears of corn
The perfect seasoning to jazz up a summertime favorite.
- 4 ears of corn, shucked
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ½ teaspoon paprika or smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon cumin
- Zest of one lime
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Place the corn on a grill heated to medium high. Cover and cook for 7–10 minutes, turning frequently, until the corn is tender. Alternatively, place the corn on an indoor grill pan. Allow the grill pan to get hot and cook until grill marks appear, about 3–4 minutes. Add ¼ cup water to the bottom of the pan and carefully cover the pan, using either a lid or aluminum foil. Allow to steam for another 3–4 minutes or until tender. Be careful when removing the lid or foil, as the steam will be extremely hot.
- Heat the butter in a small bowl in the microwave until melted, about 20–30 seconds. Stir in the paprika, chili powder, brown sugar, cumin, lime zest, and salt.
- Using a pastry brush, brush the cooked corn with the butter mixture. Serve immediately.
Tip: Make it dairy-free by subbing olive oil for the butter.