Grilling corn on the cob imbues the tender kernels with incomparable flavors and aroma. The tastes of the sweet corn milk, smoke, and char take corn on the cob out of the usual. Add to that new combinations of toppings that can be spread, sprinkled, or poured and you’re into flavor territory that begs to be explored.
The first step is to get the corn on the grill. To do so, start by peeling back the husk to the base of the cob, but leave it intact. Pull off the corn silk, rinse any lingering strands off under running water, and then pull the husk back over the cob, making sure the kernels are completely covered. If you prefer, use kitchen twine to tie around the cob to secure the husks while grilling.
Next, submerge the ears of corn in a water bath for about 30 minutes. Remove the corn from the water, and before putting the ears on the grill, shake off any excess water. Grill the corn over direct heat for about 15 to 20 minutes.
As an option, you can season the corn before you put it on the grill, or grill plain and season once it comes off the grill.
Taking baby steps to experimentation, a compound butter would be the simplest next step to a flavor explosion. To make a compound butter, soften a stick of butter (salted or unsalted, your preference), and them combine with your seasonings or fresh ingredients. Making a compound butter is not an exact science; the development can be guided by your taste.
A stick or two of softened butter and a tablespoon or two of dried herbs and spices is all you need. If using fresh, double the amount of seasoning. Pre-mixed dry rubs combined with butter are one-step flavor solutions.
But to get you started. Here is a classic compound butter recipe for Maître d´Hôtel Butter.
A Tasty Foundation and Extensions
Other topping options begin with a base ingredient, something that holds all the other ingredients together and provides the lubrication necessary for the smooth mouth-feel and richness. A fruity extra virgin olive oil, mayonnaise, yogurt, sour cream, softened cream choose, or ghee (clarified butter found in Indian food markets) are all good topping bases.
Then, think about characteristic ethnic flavors and combine those spices with one of the base ingredients.
- For Asian: try soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, five-spice powder, grated fresh or pickled ginger, hot bean paste, chiles.
- For South of the Border: try toasted ground cumin; a varietal powdered chile such as ancho, cayenne, or chipotle; fresh chopped cilantro.
- For Indian: add in an flavor of curry powder, mint, tamarind or other exotic spices.
- For Italian: garlic, parsley, oregano.
- For Middle Eastern: tzatziki, tahini, cayenne, lemon.
- For Greek: lemon, parsley, garlic, olives, oregano, yogurt, dill, fennel.
- Or take a lesson from pub-classic potato skins: combine sour cream, cheddar cheese, bacon, and chives.
And don’t forget to experiment with different types of cheese that can be easily grated or crumbled on top: Parmesan, feta, Manchego, or Cojita, for example. Cheeses that have a low melting point and rich consistency are also good choices: cheddar, Monterey Jack, fontina, blue cheeses, and brie.
Certainly, cheese can be applied at table with other toppings, or you can try this method of final preparation: A couple of minutes before taking the corn off the heat, pull back the husk from one side, sprinkle with cheese and put the cover back on the grill for 2 to 3 minutes. When it’s all melty, it’s ready to serve.
What’s your favorite topping for corn on the cob? What’s your most outlandish combination?