If fresh corn on the cob captures the flavor of summer, grilled corn makes that flavor explode in your mouth. Corn steams beautifully within its own husks and develops a taste and smell that can’t be matched by boiled or steamed ears. It also means you don’t need to heat a giant kettle of water on a hot summer evening and could even skip the kitchen altogether by grilling your entire meal.
I first started grilling corn when I was gifted Williams-Sonoma’s fabulous and comprehensive Complete Grilling Book, now out of print but still possible to track down. We used to just gobble up the grilled corn fresh, but then I realized it would freeze just as well and I could enjoy that grilled flavor all winter. As a bonus, the cobs can be frozen separately and turned into stock.
1/3 cup butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Carefully pull the husks back from each ear of corn, but leave them attached. Pull out and compost the silk, and then set the ears in a bowl with a few inches of cold water, enough to cover the husks, at the bottom. Let the ears soak for about 20 minutes, and then drain.
In a small bowl, use a fork to beat the butter until it is soft. Zest the lime into the bowl, and then squeeze in the juice. Add the paprika, if desired, and mix until distributed evenly. Spread 1 tablespoon of lime butter over each ear of corn that you plan to eat fresh. Pull the husks back up around each ear.
Place the corn on a medium-hot grill and cover, venting as need. For freezing, grill the corn for about 6 minutes, turning every couple of minutes to ensure even cooking. For fresh eating, leave the corn on the grill another 6 minutes of rotating, until the husks are slightly browned and the kernels are tender. Serve the fresh corn immediately, pulling off the husks and rolling the ears in grated Parmesan mixed with salt and pepper if desired.
Let any extra ears cool to room temperature, and then pull off the husks and snap off the end of the cob so that it’s relatively flat. Stand the ear upright on a large plate, and then run a sharp knife down the ear, rotating the cob until you have striped the kernels from all sides; set the cobs aside. Freeze the kernels on a tray, and then pack them into a 1-quart zip-close freezer bag. Snap the cobs into halves or thirds, and then freeze these in a large zip-close freezer bag or use them immediately to make stock (see below). Six ears serves 6 people fresh or yields about 3 cups of kernels for freezing.
Tips & Tricks
- One fresh lime usually yields about 1 tablespoon of zest and 2 tablespoons of juice. The juice likely won’t emulsify completely into the butter; just pour any excess over the kernels before you fold up the husks.
- You can slather corn you plan to freeze with lime butter, but I prefer to leave it off so that the kernels are more versatile. Also skip the paprika if freezing; it tends to discolor the corn and give little flavor when defrosted.
- If you end up with husk-free corn, you can wrap it in foil instead, but this tends to leave a slight metallic taste and wastes foil.
- Be sure not to overcook the corn, particularly if you plan to freeze it. If the husks are charred black, it’s probably gone too long even for an immediate meal. Overcooked corn can be starchy and chewy when defrosted, especially when you defrost it in the pan or throw it into a cooked dish.
- If you’ll be making Corncob Stock straight away, you can “milk” the cobs: After you’ve transferred the kernels from the plate to the tray, set each cob back on the plate and repeat the stripping process, only with the backside of the knife. Add the resulting liquid to the stockpot.
Twice as Tasty
Stocks squeeze every bit of flavor out of food. They’re cheap, easy to make and store, low salt, and adaptable. I buy frozen, raw, shell-on shrimp and use the shells as a shrimp stock base. I also make and freeze veggie stock whenever I have piles of end trimmings and peelings from a meal. I then substitute stock for water when steaming rice, making a sauce, or starting a soup.
Stocks targeted to a specific vegetable present unique flavors. Mushroom stock is deep and earthy, ideal for vegetable stews or a heavier risotto. Corn stocks are lighter and better for a delicate risotto or brothy soup. My version is based on Deborah Madison’s quick corncob stock but tailored to our short, intense corn harvest that has us stuffing small bags of grilled corn kernels, giant bags of corncobs, and a first batch of corn stock into the freezer every August.
1 onion, quartered
2 carrots, quartered
1 celery rib, quartered
1 medium potato, quartered
5 garlic cloves, smashed
8 parsley branches and stems
2 thyme sprigs or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon peppercorns
In a large stockpot, combine all ingredients and 2 quarts of cold water. Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 25–35 minutes. Strain as soon as the stock is cool enough to handle, and freeze in containers, bags, and/or cubes. Makes about 7 cups.
Tips & Tricks
- You can buy the vegetables you need for a stock, but it’s also the perfect place to use vegetables or trimmings from the previous day’s meal.
- The flavors and proportions can be varied depending on what you have at hand, I tend to avoid adding different vegetables to corn stock; tomatoes, mushrooms, and so on all add a heavier flavor and are best reserved for a vegetable or shrimp stock.
- When making a vegetable-based stock, Harold McGee recommends using 1 part vegetables to 1-1/2 or 2 parts water so that you don’t dilute the flavors. Because I often have piles of corncobs at one time, I typically double the batch, stuffing my stockpot with cobs and just ensuring the water is at least 2 inches from the rim so that it doesn’t boil over.
- If you have the freezer space, consider freezing the stock in different portion sizes. Quart containers or bags may be ideal for soups and risottos; bags may be your best option because they save space by freezing flat and can be defrosted in minutes under hot tap water. But single-cup portions can be handy when steaming rice, and 1-ounce cubes can be ideal for pan sauces.