Corn on the cob question
- Judith Hurley Jun 11, 2004 03:35 PM
If you buy fresh corn on the cob, how long can you keep it in the fridge? And will it keep longer if you don't shuck it?
It depends on what you mean by "fresh". If you bought it at the supermarket, it isn't fresh enough to really matter, so a day or two more won't kill you. If you buy it at a farm, and it's really fresh to begin with, I'd eat it within hours. The sugars in corn start breaking down immediately after being picked.
Veggies are so regional - my grocery buys corn locally, so it's better than if it's been sitting out on a guys truck all day in the heat.
Either way, if you think you'll have to keep it a while, just blanch it and freeze the ears. Don't cook it, just blanch it, and when you want to boil it, just drop the frozen ears in boiling water for 4 minutes, and it will be as close as you can get to fresh.
Here in MA. we put the water on to boil, run to the local farmer who picks just before the computer geeks drive past his farm and pick up the corn and cook immediately. Sometimes if we time it right he's taking it from his tractor and bringing it in. If the local supermarket has "locally grown" (whatever that means) and I'm shopping I'll buy some and serve that evening. Florida corn just doesn't make it up here...The joy of living in N.E. is that we have known this farming family for over 40 years and when he's opened that'sthe only place to go. Just wondering how long they can last before the land is sold for homes as so many others are here.
I live in northeast Indiana and sweet corn (or corn on the cob as many call it) is abundant and grown locally. I purchase it at a local farmer's market where area farmers truck it in fresh picked (fresh as just picked a couple hours prior and is still wet from the morning dew). The most popular variety is bicolor (a combination of white and yellow).
It's best shucked, wrapped in plastic (or a plastic bag) with a little water sprinkled on it and placed in the microwave. For 2-3 ears, about 2 minutes on one side, one minute on the other, more time is needed for additional ears. When microwaved, the corn cooks from the inside out and stays hot longer, plus you don't have to wait for the water to boil, heating up your kitchen on a summer day, plus you won't have a waterlogged plate. Microwaving brings out the flavor, boiling dilutes it and washes it away.
I'll never boil sweet corn again.
This reminds me of an experiment I remember reading about in one of the gardening magazines I used to get - Organic Gardening, I think. The editor wrote about his attempts to taste the quintessential fresh corn-on-the-cob, before the sugars started to turn. Ultimately he took a table and portable gas burner out to a field, boiled water, shucked an ear of corn still attached to the stalk, and boiled it for a few minutes. Then he pulled it off the stalk and ate it. If I remember correctly, he thought it was the best corn he ever tasted.
So that's all you have to do!
It depends on two things, neither of which you may know from a supermarket but you can deduce from experience over time:
1. The variety of sweet corn:
a. Traditional: this is the kind where the sugars start turning quickly to starch the moment it is picked (though icing it can slow that down pretty well for a few hours); this is the kind of corn for which you have the pot boiling before you go to pick it yourself. Supermarkets (in the Northeast, at least) rarely have this kind of corn these days; it's best found at farmstands, preferably iced and put into a iced cooler to take home.
b. Enhanced sweet corn: These varieties have been hybridized to slow down the conversion of sugars to starch for a couple of days.
c. so-called Supersweet corn: THese varieties extend that conversion process for several days. SOme varieties, when fresh, are almost too sweet and lack a depth of corn flavor, but this is not true for all. These have become popular for supermarkets, but they aren't often handled well thereby.
2. How long it has been since the corn was picked and how cold the corn has been kept thence.
Supermarkets usually do an awful job of keeping corn cold. Worse, they often remove the husks (which is about the worst thing to do to corn in advance: husks should be kept tight/intact on the corn until it is ready to be cooked).
I have a small market near me that offers enhanced or supersweet corn much of the year, handles it very well, and it is often (but not always) mighty tasty and of good texture. I am often able to keep this corn for 5 days in the coldest part of the frig. It is often tastier and more complex in flavor than some of the corn (including traditional varieties) that I get in season at local farms, especially during rainy summers (which makes for big but bland corn). I have yet to find any supermarket (including Whole Foods, which around here puts its corn out at room temperature) that offers anything near that quality.
I grew up on an Iowa farm and I have never found a good reason to shuck corn until you need to. I have no idea if it makes a difference, but my instinct has always been to leave it be until you are ready to use it. Besides, you can't roast it on a grill properly if you've already shucked it.
A couple of aside questions I'd like to throw out there about corn, if you don't mind, since it is related to your query about freshness:
1. Is there a peak time to sample the 'sweetest corn in America' in the midwest, which I've heard so much about, it has achieved legendary status? I'd like to time my midwest visit later this summer for it, if possible.
2. What's the difference between white corn and yellow corn with respect to flavor, if any?
re: Jump swiftly
We Arizonans have a bit of a secret with sweet corn... there's a farm up near Prescott that has THE best sweet corn, anywhere, bar none. It's some of the last corn to be harvested in the state (namely, in August) since they're at a higher elevation, and that extra time on the stalk really pays off. Every Friday in August they have a corn feed with barbecue beef and chicken, various salads, and all the roasted fresh sweet corn you want, all for ten bucks. If you are ANYWHERE near Prescott in August, you owe it to yourself to hit Young's Farm and come home with gobs of deeeelicious corn.
re: Jump swiftly
Writing from Chicago, peak season for sweet corn is late July through August. Early varieties tend to have smaller ears and less flavor although they taste wonderful when you haven't had any good sweet corn since September. By September earworms and slower growth rates due to less intense sunlight lower quality.
Supersweet corn seed does not germinate well in cool soil, so early corn is all traditional or sugar enhanced. Karl S's post earlier in the thread is an excellent description of the three types of sweet corn. Note that supersweet corn tends to be very sweet but deficient in other flavor components. I am sure the plant breeders have been working on varieties with both sweetness and flavor, but the odds are against you. In our farmers' markets most corn is either supersweet or sugar enhanced and was picked the day before the market and then chilled.
If you come to the Midwest and eat corn in a restaurant, plan on being disappointed. You really need corn from a farm stand or farmers' market that is grilled or microwaved with a small amount of water within a few hours. Even then, legends can raise expectations beyond reality.
Yellow corn tends to have fuller flavor than white corn IMO while white corn has subtler flavor components. Note the word "tends": this is not absolute. Bicolor looks great and has a nice middle ground for flavors.
re: Eldon Kreider
Here in eastern Massachusetts, bicolor (locally known generically as butter-and-sugar) corn tends to be dominant at the farmstands; still, old timers tend to have a soft spot for the all-white varieties that come towards the latter part of the season. I think most people around here associate all-yellow, big-kerneled corn with bad corn by dint of the common restaurant experience you cite, though that means they sometimes overlook some nice corn.
re: Karl S.
There are often regional preferences that have historical roots. Brown eggs in New England when local hens were heavy breeds while light breeds, which usually lay white eggs, were grown in warmer climates and so had been shipped in.
Many of the older yellow sweet corn varieties were inferior to the better white varieties at the time. Now you can get great quality in yellow, bicolor or white. IMO too much yellow corn is picked overly mature. I cringe at farmers' markets at people passing up ears with prime ripeness in favor of overly mature ears.
As an aside, one of the earlier traditional bicolor hybrids was cream and sugar.
I've had the great fresh corn we all remember and yearn for, including "in the field". I can make no claim to "knowing" how to get the best, though, since I recently was served corn that broke all the rules I thought I knew and was delicious. My host bought it at the supermarket, boiled it in a big pot for an indeterminate period of time, and then just shut it off and let it sit. I cringed, but must admit, when we finally ate it, the corn was delicious and delicate.
Anyway, I did just look this up in the Best Recipe Cookbook which takes a more-or-less scientific approach to these things and does research and many taste tests before publishing results. I'm not going to republish their whole article, but here is what seems salient to what else has been posted here:
Traditional types of corn are not available anymore. The hybrid varieties today are classified sugary, sugar enhanced, and supersweet. You cannot tell which you are getting, except supermarket is likely supersweet.
Corn stores best wrapped in damp paper bag inside of plastic (shopping) bag. Straight refrigeration is not much better than out on the counter, i.e. bad.
Grill corn unsoaked, shucking down to one last layer of husk, 8 minutes in 2 minute quarter rotations.
Boil corn in (no salt, no milk) water, with added sugar if the corn is not the supersweet, 5 to 7 minutes.
At every stage in the above, serve as soon as possible.
Good luck, and buy the cookbook, it's authoritative on a lot of subjects.
re: Too Many Kooks
Traditional, both hybrid and open-pollinated, sweet corn is called traditional, sugary, standard or normal depending on who is talking. Same thing, just different names. Sort of like Patagonian toothfish becoming Chilean black sea bass. Burpee's 2004 catalog lists 22 varieties of sweet corn: 5 supersweet, 10 sugar enhanced, 5 normal sugary hybrids and 2 open pollinated. Many seed companies sell heirloom sweet corn varieties, which are all open pollinated, traditional types. Seed buyers are both home gardeners and market gardeners. You won't see this corn in a supermarket but may find it at a farm stand or farmer's market.