features on starchefs.com


By Heather Sperling
October 2006

As summer dwindles, so do the abundant piles of warm weather vegetables decorating farmers market tables and local purveyors’ delivery trucks. Sweet corn is one of the few stragglers that hangs around until the first frost; take advantage of its hardiness and feature this versatile, distinctly American staple while you still can.
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Jumbo Shrimp with Sweet Corn Succotash, Seared Polenta and Barbecue Butter
Chef James Richardson of Nook – Los Angeles, CA
» Risotto of Chanterelle Mushrooms with Corn and Crispy Sweetbread
Chef Ethan Mckee of Equinox – Washington, DC
» Spiny Lobster with Corn Pudding and Truffled Mascarpone Sauce
Chef Sean Hardy of The Belvedere – Los Angeles, CA
» Strawberry Shortcake with White Corn Ice Cream
Chef Bryan Voltaggio of Charlie Palmer Steak – Washington, DC

Top quality ears have fresh, green husks filled with bright, plump, milky kernels. Sweet corn’s high sugar content and creamy flavor pairs with everything from shrimp and lobster to sweetbreads and shortcake, tempering the spice of barbecue and matching the richness of strawberries and cream. The sweet corn we know today is a hybrid bred for the high sugar and low starch that keep it sweet and soft after harvesting. As an ancient food source, corn was not eaten in this unprocessed, fresh vegetable state, but rather dried and ground as a grain. In this form it was the basis of the diet of many American cultures, from the Incas to the Mayas to the cliff dwellers of the American Southwest. Corn traveled west with Columbus and quickly spread throughout Southern Europe; today it remains a staple in many Latin and European cuisines and is the world’s third most produced crop.

The sweet varietals that appear each summer are only one of the five types of corn grown for various purposes around the globe. The other four – Indian, dent, pop and flint – are transformed into everything from popcorn, animal feed, and corn syrup, to a shocking variety of industrial products. While the presence of corn in both history and modern industrial agriculture is more about utility than flavor, its versatile, sweet richness remains an integral part of an American summer and inspires a broad range of pairings. Chef James Richardson plays with a classic, matching a corn succotash with the smoky, spicy flavors of barbecue. Chefs Ethan McKee and Sean Hardy’s dishes place emphasis on richness, while Chef Bryan Voltaggio takes its sweetness literally, using white corn in an ice cream to top strawberry shortcake.

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