fig. a: homemade Esquites
No two summers are exactly alike, of course, but every summer around our household has its two or three full-blown food crazes that help define it. Something comes into season and shows up at the market, and for some reason--either because the quality is higher this time around, or because the variety's better, or because it's just caught you at the right moment--we just keep going to that same thing over and over again because it just feels (and tastes) right. Earlier this summer it was cucumbers. They just tasted amazing to me--better than they had in years (and I'm always a fan)--and I found myself preparing them every which way: in salads, in Asian noodle dishes, in sandwiches, in soups, even in drinks. We're still eating our fair share of cukes, because our plants have been producing like nuts and they still taste great, but, really, who are we kidding? Right now it's all about the corn.
Now, again, we're big fans of Quebec corn every year, but this year was different. This year we absolutely could not wait. A lot of this had to do with a feature on Mexico City's Mercado de la Merced that appeared in the May issue of Saveur. Not surprisingly, given its centrality to Mexican cuisine, corn figured prominently in their overview of la Merced's enormous variety of simple pleasures. Just that one photograph of those cobs of blue corn was enough to make us ravenous. But what really pushed us over the edge was the photograph of some lucky person's hand clutching a cup of Esquites: gently stewed corn with lime juice and chile powder served in a cup and topped with crumbled cheese. From the moment we contemplated making Esquites at home, Quebec's corn season couldn't come fast enough. In fact, Michelle was so focused on making Esquites and making it right that she even bought us an epazote plant at Jean-Talon Market so that we could have plenty on hand when that fateful moment arrived.
As it happens, we were in luck: corn season came relatively early this year, and the corn has been fantastic so far, and cheap too (13 for $5 [or $15 for a bag of 72!] at the market on the weekend, 5 for $1 right now at Supermarché P.A.). Naturally, the first thing we made was Esquites.
6 cups fresh white (or yellow) corn kernels (you'll need roughly 10 ears of corn)
3 tbsp butter
1 stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped serrano chile (you can substitute a jalapeño if serranos are hard to find in your area)
torn leaves from one stalk epazote (optional)
1 cup queso fresco (or some other kind of fresh cheese, like Portuguese Santa Maria, which is readily available in our neighborhood), crumbled
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1/2 tsp chile powder (such as A.J.'s Chile Powder, my own personal blend)
salt to taste
lime wedges for garnish
Combine the corn kernels, the butter, the fresh chile, the epazote, and 1 1/2 cups of water in a medium pot. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, until the corn is tender, about 10-15 minutes. Set aside to let the corn and its cooking liquid cool slightly. Add the queso fresco, the lime juice, the chile powder, and the salt and toss well. Divide the corn and the liquid between cups and garnish with a lime wedge.
[adapted from "La Merced," Mauricio Velázquez de Léon, Saveur, May 2007]
Was it worth the wait? You better believe it. Sweet, spicy, refreshing--we were in heaven. Those four extra portions? We took care of them ourselves.
Our other big corn kick this summer has been grilled corn, appropriately enough, because we've been giving it some Mexican flair and because it turns out the indigenous Mexican root of the word esquites is izquitl, or toasted corn. And, again, we've been grilling corn in some capacity for years now, but it just tastes better this year for some reason. Sometimes we've even had it several days in a row, which isn't something that happens all too often around here.
Carefully pull back the husk from 6 ears of corn without detaching them fully. Remove the corn silk. Replace the corn husk so that the kernels are once again hidden from view and tie the leaves in place using a piece of kitchen twine. Soak each ear of corn in water for 5-10 minutes.
Once the ears have soaked for 5-10 minutes, place them on the grill over a low fire. Close the lid and let them cook for 20 minutes.
In the meantime, melt 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a small saucepan over low to medium-low heat. Add 2-3 teaspoons of chipotle purée*, 1 1/2 tablespoons of lime juice, and salt to taste and stir.
When the corn has finished cooking on the grill, remove them from the fire, let them cool momentarily, and then pull away the husks and the twine. Put the corn back on the grill and brush liberally with the butter/chipotle/lime juice mixture. Grill the ears of corn for about 5 minutes or so, rolling them around occasionally so that they cook evenly, and allowing them to get just the slighest bit blackened.
fig. b: on the grill
Serve immediately, brushing them with a bit more of the butter mixture if your little heart desires.
fig. c: the finished product
I love straight-up boiled corn on the cob slathered with butter just as much as the next guy, but at the moment,there's no turning back.
* Chipotle chiles in adobo sauce puréed in a blender or food processor.