With fresh corn on the cob showing up in the markets, how do I choose the best ones? What is the best way to cook it?--Jason
Corn on the cob is one of the vegetables that I insist on picking through to find the best ones. It is so easy to get poor quality.
Start by looking at the husks, which should be bright leafy green and feel slightly damp. If they are dry or losing color, the corn is old. At the same time, look at the stem end, where it was cut. The cut should be clean and moist. If it is turning brown, that is another sign that the corn is was picked some time ago.
Peel back the husk on one side to see the tassel or cornsilk and the kernels. The tassel shouldn't show any signs of rot. It should be soft and a golden yellow to light brown color.
Contrary to what some people think, it is fine if there are undeveloped kernels for as much as 3/4 of an inch (2 cm) or so at the end of the cob. If the kernels are full and yellow right to the end, then the corn may have been getting too old when it was picked. It may still be good, but chances are that the skin of the seeds will have started to get tough.
The seeds themselves should be plump and tightly spaced. Some people like to burst a few kernels with their fingernail. This tells you two things. First, you can tell how tough the kernels are by the amount of pressure it takes to burst them. Second, the liquid inside should be creamy, with a slight yellow tinge to it. Personally, I don't do this, because I figure at that point I have damaged the store's property and am obliged to buy it, so I'm going to end up with it either way. Better to go on the other signs of quality.
Finally, a hint from my friend Jolene in Iowa. If the kernels have indents in their tops, it means that they have started to lose moisture and should be avoided.
As to how to cook corn on the cob, the traditional method is to boil it. The corn should be shucked (have the husks and tassels removed) as soon as possible before cooking. If you need to store the corn for a day, put it in the refrigerator unwrapped or in an open bag. You don't want to trap moisture in the corn.
To shuck corn, peel back the husks all the way around and then snap or cut off the stem end between the husks and the cob. Rub off the cornsilk with your hand. Put the corn into rapidly boiling, unsalted water and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well and serve. Sometimes I add a bit of sugar to the water, maybe about a tablespoon or two per gallon, to make the corn a little sweeter.
Another cooking method which is good for the summer barbecue season is to peel back the husks but leave them attached, and remove the tassel. Pull the husks back over the corn, tie off with a piece of string, and then soak the corn for about 10 minutes. The corn can then be roasted right on the barbecue for about 10 to 15 minutes before serving.