How To Cook Perfect Corn

Originally published on July 1, 2011 5:07 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

It's the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Maybe you've peeled back the husks, pulled off the stringy silk and have a beautiful pile of fresh corn ready to be cooked. And then what do you do?

SIEGEL: What's the perfect way to cook an ear of corn? Well, food writer Betty Fussell is going to help us with that. She wrote the book on corn, its history and mythology, titled "The Story of Corn." Betty Fussell, welcome to the program.

BETTY FUSSELL: Thank you, Melissa, thank you for corn.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Thank you for corn. What's your method? What's your favorite way to cook corn?

FUSSELL: But you still get the crispness. You don't want mushy sweet corn.

BLOCK: So 10 minutes, you would say just beyond the pale.

FUSSELL: Beyond the pale because you're not eating your grandparents' corn. You're eating super-super-duper-sweet corn that has been engineered over the last 20 years to be sweeter, sweeter and sweeter. So it has almost no starch content at all. It's an entirely different from the country gentlemen, the (unintelligible), the silver queen of your grandparents.

BLOCK: Now, my mother has taught me put sugar in the water.

FUSSELL: Never put salt because it toughens the skin.

BLOCK: Aha, so you're a sugar advocate?

FUSSELL: No because it's already - you know, if you can do a taste test, and if you get somebody who's growing heritage corn of even 20 years ago and then get a typical corn today, you'll notice a huge difference in super sweetness. That's why you don't need to add sugar to the water.

BLOCK: Okay, now there are proponents of microwaving and grilling. What do you think about that?

FUSSELL: I think microwave does well with corn. And you put it on the highest heat that your microwave will do and just two or three minutes.

BLOCK: And on the grill, what do you think?

FUSSELL: Well, the grill, I - because I live in the city, I take the husk off and grill it directly over the flame, a gas flame. It's the easiest way, but it alarms some people.

BLOCK: You could grill it, I guess, in the husks, too, right?

FUSSELL: I like the grill taste. So if I had an outdoor grill, then I still like to strip the husks off and do it directly.

BLOCK: Put it right on there, for how long?

FUSSELL: Put it right on there. It depends how hot your grill is, you know, the usual things that again, you're just heating the kernels enough for whatever you're going to slather on, including things like olive oil, just chili and lime and salt, the way the Mexicans do. Mayonnaise and chili is wonderful. But, you know, you want the kind of liquidy thing or a pesto, herb butter, olive oil with herbs, you know, wonderful.

BLOCK: I think we're all getting hungry right around now, Betty.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FUSSELL: I'm always hungry for sweet corn. It's just the major thing is to get the very best, freshest sweet corn you can.

BLOCK: Well, Betty Fussell, have a great Fourth of July weekend, and I'm guessing there's going to be some corn involved for you.

FUSSELL: Oh, I do hope so, along with the fireworks.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Betty Fussell is the author of "The Story of Corn." Betty, thanks so much.

FUSSELL: Thank you, Melissa, happy Fourth. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.