Sweetcorn, an unsung hero…
Date: 17-07-2019 published by Nick Baines
Sweetcorn is one of the most overlooked British ingredients, but that may be about to change…
Until recently, not a lot of imagination has been used when preparing sweetcorn. At its most basic, it’s boiled, drained and served on the side. If we’re really lucky it might be boiled on the cob, slathered in butter and whacked on a plate alongside your blackened sausages form the barbecue.
But that’s starting to change and this much-maligned ingredient is finally getting some overdue TLC. With inspiration drawn from Latin America, corn is getting pepped up no end and as well as harnessing a plethora of invigorating flavours, it’s featuring as a starring ingredient in a number of other dishes.
The Guardian’s Anna Jones is doing for sweetcorn what Ottolenghi did for the aubergine. Her recipes call for this yellow staple time and time again featuring in everything from corn and cauliflower chowder, to a fiery salad constructed from coriander leaves, sweetcorn, chillies, limes and shallots. Jones also calls for this unsung hero in a sweetcorn and tomato curry. And there are countless street food vendors and fast-casual restaurant outfits taking inspiration from this too.
For those experimenting with regional styles of Japanese ramen, you’ll be aware that sweetcorn features in many versions including Hokkaido-style miso ramen, and some variants of chicken ramen too. On hot summer’s afternoons, the soft sweetness from this abundant yellow ingredient can smooth out those flavours to deliver a revolutionary take on this classic noodle soup.
Back to the Latin American element, and it’s hard not to see how Mexico has been a key driving force in the reawakening of sweetcorn. As the trend for Mexican cuisine continues to grow, we’re seeing sweetcorn being hit with fresh lime juice, salt, and finely chopped habanero as a potent taco filling – the sweetness of the corn working to cool the fruity heat of the chilli.
Grilled elote is another Mexican street food where a corn on the cob is slathered in a spicy mix of sour cream, mayonnaise, garlic, ancho chilli powder, fresh coriander and lime juice. Riffs on this iconic finger food include chipotle paste, as well as south east Asian twists that bring in fish sauce and peanut butter to the lime and chilli mix.
But the coating or marinade doesn’t always have to be taken in such an exotic direction. Simply taking the buttered corn on the cob up a notch can be enough to elevate this ingredient to hero status. That butter you allow to melt into the steaming corn – why not chop some anchovies into it? Or fresh thyme and some sundried tomatoes? Even just some cayenne pepper can add a welcome kick to sweetcorn and lift a barbecue plate to new heights.
So as British sweetcorn comes careering into season, be sure to flex some creativity in its direction, because this unassuming workhorse of an ingredient is more versatile than you think.
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