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All-purpose corn


Hills’ Restaurant and Lounge features corn in this roasted corn salsa served with marinated flank steak on garlic mashed potatoes. (Jesse Tinsley)
Hills’ Restaurant and Lounge features corn in this roasted corn salsa served with marinated flank steak on garlic mashed potatoes. (Jesse Tinsley)

Tough to beat butter-drenched cooked cobs, but local chefs have figured out ways to do it

Nothing screams summer quite like CORN!

The pop of the sweet kernels seems like a fitting reward for putting up with searing hot days.

Most corn enthusiasts cannot imagine a better way to enjoy this seasonal treat than gnawing on a quickly cooked cob, butter dripping down their chin. Yet, this ancient food is one of the most versatile ingredients in the produce department.

“There are tons of things you can do with it,” said chef Sylvia Wilson, who spends much of the season catering weddings. “You can turn it into soups and salsa, make old-fashioned creamed corn or a spicy corn fritter. It’s not summer for me until I’ve grilled some corn.”

Downriver Grill executive chef Ryan Stoy agreed.

“Corn can go sweet or savory,” he said. “It can be used in simple recipes or dressed up. I’ve even made a panna cotta with it.”

One of his favorite summer dishes involves serving seared scallops on top of a creamy corn sauce that’s perfumed with a hint of coriander.

“You cut the corn off the cob and simmer it in just enough whole milk to cover it for about 10 minutes, with a little coriander, sugar, olive oil, season it with some salt and pepper,” he said. “Then, strain off the milk and puree the corn, adding the milk back to get the consistency of a creamy sauce. It’s so rich and bright, with the buttery flavor of the corn shining through.”

Corn’s natural sweetness makes it a perfect partner for savory grilled meats, too.

Dave Hill likes to raise the heat on his marinated beef by adding some fiery chili powder. The yang to corn’s yin.

“Corn stands up well to spicy,” said the chef/owner of Hills’ Restaurant and Lounge.

He said he appreciates that corn brings so much flavor to straightforward recipes (like the one included here) because “most people don’t want to spend a whole lot of time in the kitchen during the summer months.”

Of course, you’ll want to start with the sweetest corn, and the ears are nearly ready at a local favorite U-pick place.

“It’s shaping up to be a good year, considering the slow start we had,” said Marv Carver, whose family has run Carver Farms for 35 years.

One reason the area is well-suited for the bi-color corn fans clamor for every August has to do with the semi-rocky soil in Spokane Valley. “Those small stones hold the heat from the day, so the corn continues to grow during the night.”

When selecting ears, Carver urges shoppers not to strip the shucks.

“Sometimes, they’ll even stick a fingernail into the kernels, but you cannot tell how corn is going to taste by looking at it,” he said.

The best bet is to feel for ears that are full and heavy, and to shop at spots where you know it’s just picked.

Some of Carver’s customers preserve the fresh taste of summer by freezing the ears whole, in the husk. “They swear by it,” he said. “They strip off some of the outside and as much of the silk as they can and then freeze it. When they’re ready to use it, they just pop it in the microwave for a couple of minutes.”

Ding! You’ve got a little bit of August in the middle of December.

Whether it’s featured in simple or show-stopping recipes, corn is at its peak starting this week and going through mid-September. Call Carver Farms for picking times: (509) 226-3602. Here are a few preparations that will make you look you’re king or queen of the maize.

Flank Steak with Smoked Corn Salsa

From Dave Hill, chef/owner Hills’ Restaurant and Lounge

For the flank steak:

4 tablespoons roasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons Korean chili powder

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 flank steak, between 2 and 3 pounds

For the smoked corn salsa:

4 ears of corn, husks removed, smoked for 30 minutes using apple wood chips, then kernels removed from the cob

1 each red and green bell peppers, finely diced

1 small red onion, finely diced

2 medium tomatoes, diced

1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped

1 jalapeño, finely diced

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black ground pepper

1 lime, juiced

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

Marinate flank steak overnight.

Mix ingredients for salsa one hour before grilling flank steak. Cook flank steak to desired temperature and let rest for 10 minutes, then slice against the grain 1/4-inch thick at a 45 degree angle. Fan meat over garlic mashed potatoes. Top with salsa.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Spicy Jalapeño Corn Fritters

From chef Sylvia Wilson, Feast Catering Co.

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds (toasted and then ground)

3/4 cup whole milk or half-and-half

2 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons lime juice

Zest of one lime

3 cups fresh cut corn kernels (about 3 ears)

6 scallions, chopped

3/4 cups crumbled queso fresco cheese

1 jalapeño, finely minced

In a large bowl, mix first 6 ingredients. Add milk, beaten eggs, lime juice and zest. Whisk into a batter. It is OK if there are tiny clumps, but work out the big ones with the whisk.

Fold in the remainder of the ingredients.

Heat a large heavy-bottomed skillet (cast iron is best) with a generous amount of vegetable or canola oil to medium high.

Wait until oil is hot, then turn heat down to medium.

Place rounded spoonfuls of fritter batter (making about 3-inch fritters) carefully into skillet and cook for about 3 minutes on each side until lightly browned.

Make in batches, moving fritters to a sheet pan and transferring to a warm 375 degree oven. Don’t worry if they are still a little doughy in the middle; they will continue to cook in the oven.

Serve with a tomatillo salsa.

Yield: About 20 fritters.

Roasted Corn Salsa Blackened Cornbread

From Ryan Stoy, executive chef Downriver Grill

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cup polenta (or finely ground corn meal)

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons salt

8 tablespoons butter, divided

2 eggs, beaten

1 1/4 cup whole milk

Roasted Corn Salsa (recipe follows)

Preheat the convection oven to 400 degrees or conventional oven to 450 degrees. Place a 9-by-6 cake pan in the oven and allow it to get very hot.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the cornmeal, baking powder, sugar and salt.

Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a microwavable measuring cup. Whisk in the eggs and milk until well blended.

Add the liquid ingredients and the Roasted Corn Salsa (recipe follows) to the dry ingredients. Stir with a spatula until mix is just combined.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in the hot pan.

Scrape the batter into the hot pan and bake in the center of the oven for about 25-35 minutes, until the cornbread is golden and a toothpick comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool for at least 20 minutes. Finish with Cajun Blackening Seasoning (recipe follows) before serving.

Roasted Corn Salsa

1 ear of corn, roasted and shucked

1/4 medium red onion, diced small

1/2 red bell pepper, diced small

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced small

1 tablespoon parsley, chopped small

2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped small

1 tablespoon chives, chopped small

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon black pepper, ground fine

1 teaspoon sugar

Once corn is roasted, shucked, cooled and cut off the cob, combine all ingredients and set aside.

Cajun Blackening Seasoning

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

2 teaspoons onion powder (can substitute granulated)

2 teaspoons garlic powder (can substitute granulated)

2 teaspoons cayenne

1 tablespoon oregano

1 tablespoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon gumbo filé (optional)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon black pepper, ground

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, ground

1 cup melted butter

Combine all spices until evenly distributed.

To blacken: Cut the cooled cornbread into 12 equal pieces, then cut once down the middle.

Dip one side of the cornbread slice into melted butter and then into the blackening seasoning.

Place the seasoned side of the cornbread on your very hot cast iron skillet and allow to slightly blacken for about 30 seconds (may take longer if pan is not hot enough). Your bread will produce a lot of smoke, so make sure the fan is on.

Serve with honey butter.

Yield: 24 pieces blackened corn bread

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