By Stephanie Burt
Once many gardeners have become comfortable tending tomatoes, squash and cucumbers in a raised bed or backyard plot, they start to dream of fresh, sweet juicy corn picked right from the stalk. But corn can pose a bit of a challenge to the home gardener if you plant without any knowledge.
James Beard-nominated chef and gardener Matt Bolus enjoys cooking with corn, and the seasonal succotash on his menu at 404 Kitchen in Nashville, Tenn., is a testament to that. In order to grow his own corn at home, he armed himself with a little knowledge of the plant’s propagation habits to ensure that he’d have plenty of ears of corn for his Sunday suppers with family.
Chef Matt Bolus of 404 Kitchen grows corn right in his own backyard. Photo Credit: Justin Chesney
First, he planted three rows of corn in the full sun. “I thought about those corn fields in Iowa – full sun,” he explains. “And you have to have at least three rows to pollinate.”
Next, he hand-pollinated. Corn relies on the wind to pollinate it, but with only three rows, it’s likely that those outside stalks won’t be pollinated without a little help. Bolus visited his garden in the mornings when the plant was tassling (growing all those silky strands) and just gave each stalk a gentle shake. He ended up with almost 40 ears of Silver Queen corn from his 15 plants.
“Next year, I’ll plant more,” he says.
What’s the best way to serve the finished product? Bolus suggests a creamed corn side dish without the cream.
“This is my go-to at home and in the restaurant. The corn milk enriches the flavor of the kernels because you are using the essence of the corn. When you heat it, you activate the cornstarch and it becomes thick and buttery. A little acid brightens it and you have this rich, simple and phenomenal dish,” he says.
Look for a sturdy pan that heats evenly and is large enough to hold all the corn. This dish requires a good bit of tending and stirring so you don’t lose those beautiful, fresh kernels to the hot stove or the burner below.
From Chef Matt Bolus of 404 Kitchen in Nashville, Tenn. Yields 4 to 6 servings.
- 8 ears of corn
- 3 tablespoons of butter
- Leaves of 6 sprigs fresh thyme
- Kosher salt to taste
- Black pepper to taste
- Apple cider vinegar to taste
1. Cut all the corn off the cob. Keep two ears’ worth separate from the rest. With the back of a knife or a spoon, scrape the cobs to release the corn milk and reserve that with the two cobs’ worth of kernels.
2. Heat the butter in a pan large enough to hold all of the corn over medium heat. When the butter starts to bubble, add thyme leaves and stir briefly, then add all corn kernels.
3. Season the corn lightly with salt and pepper. Stir and allow the corn to sweat in butter.
4. Puree the remaining kernels of the two ears along with the corn milk until it is super smooth. Strain this puree through a fine mesh strainer. If the puree is too thick after straining, you can add water if needed.
5. Once the corn in the pan is almost cooked perfectly, add the corn puree and bring the heat up slightly to a simmer.
6. Cook the corn and corn puree until the puree has thickened to a creamy, buttery texture.
7. Adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and a splash of apple cider vinegar to taste.
Stephanie Burt is the host of the highly regarded The Southern Fork weekly podcast. Stephanie travels with a fork and shares stories on Southern cuisine. Stephanie also writes on kitchens, food and gardens for The Home Depot. If you’re researching how to set up your own garden beds, you can find info on the Home Depot website.