This continues the blog series The Out There Side. This post is pretty corny.
Apparently there are as many ways to shuck an ear of corn as there are chefs working a grill.
That fact has made itself clear during this last week, when my family and I have been in upstate New York, staying at a lake in the foothills of the Catskills. We have a group of five cabins and five families, connected by a cookout area — a little community that one kid has affectionately dubbed Covid Cove. (An ironic title, since we are all Covid-free, at last check.)
The Great Corn Husk Debate raged in full force the other night during a grilling party in honor of a birthday girl in our group. But it’s a discussion that extends back to the produce department at the grocery store where I work. (The store shall go nameless here, but it has been in the news.)
Presentation is Everything
At the store, the debate is over fresh corn on the cob and how it should be presented for sale. There are no hard-and-fast rules in the store bylaws, best I know. The Produce Experts seem to have differing views on how to handle a new batch of un-shucked, ratty-looking fresh corn.
Linda: “Chop the hair [silk] off the husk and leave the rest. No muss, no fuss.”
Craig: “Leave the hair on the husk — it holds in moisture until the customer buys it.”
Deb: “Trim off the silk and remove all the ratty leaves so it looks nice.”
James: “Trim it to look groomed, so it’s a desirable husk ready for the grill.”
Mark [no longer works there]: “We should just take all the leaves off and sell the corn naked.”
Real World Practice
Any in-store discussions only preface the debate you may find around the grill. Recently a couple dozen un-shucked fresh corn ears were plopped down grill-side, and the question arose as to how best to shuck and cook these. (These opinions were supplied mainly by males — on this night, at least, the guys all gathered to commiserate about the screwed-up baseball season and supervise each other on the grill, while the women had more civilized cocktail conversations around the table.)
Richard: “I’m not really a grill person (I’m a kitchen chef) but I usually peel off all the shucks and boil the corn in water.”
Kevin: “I find the very best results are when you shuck the corn and par-boil it for just a few minutes, then bring it out to the grill to brown the outsides.”
Sam: “Leave the silk on and all the shucks — it will cook great — and then you peel it off at the table.”
My wife Viv [interjecting amid the testosterone]: “Trim the corn down to the last layer of husk, and make sure to break off the stem.”
Brian: “I don’t give a shit, let’s cook it.”
That night we went with Sam’s cook-it-all-and-peel-it-later method, and it tasted great. However, the women did offer some post-meal opinions.
Michele: “This is good, but it’s messy.”
Melissa: “Yes, who wants cooked shucks on their food plate?”
Viv: “It would’ve been better if it were peeled down to the last layer.”
The Real Solution
A couple of nights later, we visited an outdoor bar where the food was made to order in a kitchen behind the (closed off) main bar. Our chef was a 26-year-old dude named Tyr (he’s apparently Norwegian). Tyr informed us that he is a talented, multi-instrumental musician, which of course is why he is a short-order cook in a local bar.
Tyr also professed to be an expert at grilling corn, and he offered this recipe:
Cut off bottom stem
Remove shucks, down to the last layer
Peel that layer back
Season corn with butter, salt and pepper
Replace the layer on the corn
Cook (15–20 min, turning every 5 min)
Richard (new grill convert) added the touch of tying the corn with a shuck after seasoning:
This method produced the best corn yet, an absolute hit with everyone — except for the vegans in our group. (“Oops, buttered all the ears!”) The meal itself was not exactly vegan-friendly, with an emphasis on grilled fish and meat. But the vegans enjoyed the next meal much more. Nachos, anyone?
All images by the author (jackcrager.com).