Monday, July 27, 2015

Elotes Callejeros (Grilled Mexican Street Corn)

By most definitions, my life growing up in the midwest might be considered a safe, sheltered one. Whether this was due to the town I lived in or the time period I grew up in or some combination of both, I have not yet been able to commit to a definitive answer to my working theories. The first glimpse into the new and different windows of the world, so to speak, occurred on the first day of my freshman year in college. While my would-be alma mater was only a hundred and thirty miles from my hometown, it felt more like I had taken a transcontinental journey to get there. Only instead of ending up at the edge of the ocean, I would end up spending the next five years of my life surrounded by cornfields. The frames of reference I had grown up with were suddenly being challenged and expanded. And that was even before my first official day of class. While there were so many different and significant experiences and individuals influencing my thinking back then, the one giving me yet another glimpse into the world and maybe into my soul came from living with one of my sorority sisters during my senior year. She was what I would call a voracious reader. I would have been at that time someone who read because they had to. As I watched her as she read (it seemed like she always had a book with her) and listened to her talk about the books she was reading, I realized there was another way to experience the world, gain perspective, become more empathic, make connections, and strengthen my vocabulary (if I had only met her four years earlier maybe my rhetoric grade wouldn't have brought down my GPA). Books, I came to discover, could take your mind, heart, and soul to all sorts of places, regardless of the place or time one lived in. And from that moment on, I knew books would always be a constant, significant part of and influencer in my life. Anna Quindlen captured it best when she wrote "Books are the plane, the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home."

While I sometimes think myself as a little more worldly when it comes to food, I get the 'you are not quite as worldly as you think' reality check every now and then. Up until this past weekend my idea of eating grilled corn was lathering it with butter and sprinkling it with salt. But then I had my first taste of Elotes Callejeros otherwise known as Grilled Mexican Street Corn. Momentary speechlessness was followed by a close imitation of the restaurant scene in 'When Harry Met Sally'. My grilled corn world was never going to be the same again.

Elotes Callejeros (Grilled Mexican Street Corn) is salty, sweet, creamy, nutty, smokey, and savory with a bit of tartness. As brazen as this may sound, let me put myself out there and say it should be the only way grilled corn should be made. While I have no plausible explanation as to how it was possible this deeply flavored, charred corn never before made an appearance in my life, I offer no apologies for making what may sound like an audacious grilled corn making claim to some of you. None whatsoever. Seriously, this corn is that good. And honestly, after you taste grilled corn made this way, you will realize I really wasn't taking any risks with my opinion here at all.

This recipe is an amalgamation of the dozens of recipes I came across in cookbooks and online when researching Elotes Callejeros (Grilled Mexican Street Corn). All of the recipes had lime juice, either queso fresco or cotija cheese, and some kind of 'hot' spice listed in their ingredients. Melted butter, mayonnaise, Mexican Crema, sour cream, or a mixture of them made up the base of the creamy sauce. Garlic, salt, and/or cilantro appeared in some of the variations.

This version uses both mayonnaise and Mexican Crema, minced garlic, kosher salt, cayenne pepper and a Mexican Spice Blend from Morton and Bassett. I chose the spice blend because it was made up of cumin, garlic, paprika, white pepper, thyme and onion allowing me to control the heat by supplementing with cayenne pepper. As for the cheeses, I thought using both the fresh queso fresco and aged cotija would add the right amount of creaminess to the texture and nuttiness to the flavor of the elotes. Rather than putting lime juice in the sauce, I reserved it to squeeze over the grilled corn. 

Most varieties of yellow corn and bi-color corn tend to be on the sweet side. Based on years living in corn country, my personal preference is bi-color corn. Yellow in color corn tends to have larger, fuller flavored kernels (as compared to white corn). While there are are varieties of white corn sweeter in flavor than yellow corn, their kernels tend to be smaller. Large kernels seem to work better for this grilled corn recipe. 

It is essential the corn in its husk be soaked in water for at least 45-60 minutes before being placed on the grill the first time. Technically the corn gets grilled twice, but I am getting ahead of myself. Water soaked husks are less likely to catch on fire when placed on the grill. 

The water soaked corn is placed on a medium-high grill for 15-20 minutes. While grilling, rotate all sides of the corn to ensure they are evenly exposed to the heat. Some charring will occur in the first grilling. When the grilled corn is easy to handle (approximately 5-10 minutes of wait time), the husks are pulled back and the silk is removed. You can completely remove the husk along with the silk, but in doing so you will have less of a 'handle' to the corn.

The prepared 'sauce' is brushed on each piece of the shucked, grilled corn and then returned to the grill a second time. This return to the grill allows the sauce to begin to flavor the kernels while giving the kernels another chance to become slightly more charred.

This second grilling takes less than 5 minutes and requires you carefully watch and rotate.

Lime juice is squeezed over the corn before the sauce is brushed on for a second time. The second application of the sauce not only deepens the flavor of the corn but becomes the adhesive for the grated queso fresco and cotija cheeses.

The Elotes Callejeros (Grilled Mexican Street Corn) would pair well with grilled steaks or grilled chicken, Fish Tacos with Chipotle Slaw, or enchiladas. With some ice cold beer, it can become a meal. Plan on making more than one ear of this corn when serving. Two ears might be too much for some, but one and a half, well that should be just about right.

If you happen upon a Farmer's Market in the week or weeks ahead, pick up some freshly picked corn. Because if there is only one new recipe you make off of the blog this month, make this one. If by any chance you have never before had Elotes Callejeros (Grilled Mexican Street Corn), it would make me incredibly happy to be the one opening up the window to this incredibly delicious, decadent grilled corn world for you. Because in one taste, similar to the experience of reading a great book, this way of grilling and serving corn will take you to either new or familiar places. Buen apetito!

Elotes Callejeros (Grilled Mexican Street Corn)

6-8 ears of corn, in the husk (bi-color corn if it is available, if not a sweet yellow corn)
3 Tablespoons mayonnaise
3 Tablespoons Mexican Crema or Mexican Style Sour Cream
1 teaspoon Mexican Blend Spice (recommend Morton and Bassett brand)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional if you don't like any heat at all)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 cup freshly grated queso fresco
1/2 cup freshly grated cotija cheese
2 limes

1. Soak corn in their husk in a deep pan of water or clean sink for approximately 45-60 minutes. Weight corn down with a pan or heavy plate so it is completely submerged. Note: It is important for the husks to have time to absorb the water as this will prevent them for catching on fire on the grill. 
2. In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, Mexican Crema, Mexican Blend Spice, cayenne pepper, kosher salt and minced garlic. Set aside.
3. Mix grated queso fresco and cotija cheese together in a medium-sized rectangular or oval bowl. Set aside.
4. Remove corn from water and place on grill set to medium-high heat. Grill for approximately 15-20 minutes, turning until all sides have had the chance to begin to cook. Remove from grill.
5. When cool enough to handle, pull down silk and husks (remove silk but keep husks to use as a handle). Or remove both silk and husks.
6. Lightly brush corn with the mayonnaise/creme/spice mixture and grill until the corn begins to char/brown (approximately 2-3 minutes). Remove from grill. Note: Watch the corn carefully, turning at least once to prevent burning.
7. Squeeze lime juice over grilled corn. Using a pastry brush corn again with mayonnaise/creme/spice mixture. Roll in or sprinkle grated cheeses evenly over corn. Serve immediately.

Additional notes: (1) Can use sour cream in place of the Mexican Crema and/or Mexican Style Sour Cream, (2) Can use only grated queso fresco or grated cotija cheese rather than a mixture of the two, and (3) If bi-color corn is not available, choose a large kernel sweet corn.

Lego Sculptures at Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL

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