It’s mid-August and throughout New York State, that means home-grown corn season! From sweet to super sweet, from the tender, white kernels of Silver Queen to the yellow and white of Butter and Sugar, farmers’ markets are offering a range of varieties, colors and sugar levels. Which type is better is purely a matter of taste, but because those kernels are hidden behind layers of husk, it’s not always easy to pick the freshest ears. Shopping at a farmers’ market can help because the people who grow it are right there to answer your questions! But if you need a little help, here’s what to look for:
- Brown tassels that are sticky to the touch. Dry, black tassels indicate an old ear
- Bright green husks that are wrapped tight against the cob – that’s fresh!
- Kernels that feel plump through the husk. You don’t want holes where kernels should be. And if you pull back the husk to peek at the kernels (though this shortens the shelf life!), look for plump kernels with no dents to them. The kernels should be in tight rows and have moist, pale yellow silk peeking out from the ear. If the tip of the corn is rounded to the feel through the husk, the corn is filled out. If it feels pointed, the kernels are not filled out to the tip and may be immature.
- Avoid ears with tiny brown holes in husk. Those holes are made by worms.
There’s a debate about whether you ‘shuck’ corn or ‘husk’ it, but whatever term you use for removing the shell of leaves from the ear, don’t do it until you’re ready to cook the corn. Cobs stay fresher, longer if you keep the husk on. Store corn in a paper bag in the refrigerator to slow down the process of turning the sugar to starch, but use the corn within four to five days after purchase.
Shuck corn by peeling away all but a thin layer of innermost leaves, then peel back the leaves from the tip of the cob. Grab the tops of the leaves and the tassel in one hand and the bottom of the ear with your other hand; pull the leaves and tassel straight down in one tug. Snap off the leaves and silks from the base of the cob, clean up any remaining silk.
If you’re going to boil your corn, boil for 4 to 6 minutes in unsalted water; adding salt will toughen the kernels. If you’d like to give grilled corn a try, here’s a recipe from Bobby Flay:
Grilled Corn from Bobby Flay
Heat the grill to medium.
Pull the outer husks down the ear to the base. Strip away the silk from each ear of corn by hand. Fold husks back into place, and place the ears of corn in a large bowl of cold water with 1 tablespoon of salt for 10 minutes.
Remove corn from water and shake off excess. Place the corn on the grill, close the cover and grill for 15 to 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes, or until kernels are tender when pierced with a paring knife. Remove the husks and eat on the cob or remove the kernels.