Breaking fried corn out of its Southern Belle stereotype

Fried Corn

While the American South certainly has a number of strong, smart and standout women (an excellent example can often be found in Gourmandistan), the region still unfortunately nurtures some particularly painful flowerings of Southern womanhood, a few of whom have started to get their comeuppance. But we’re not here to hand out faded roses—we just want people to stop buying (and sugaring) Silver Queen corn and its even sweeter siblings. While many of our non-United States friends may believe the grain is fit for only pigs or peasants, Americans ingest tons and tons and tons of it. It’s part of our mythology (Native Americans called it “maize”) and according to some makes up most of our diet. While not as corny as some Americans, we Gourmandistanis definitely eat our share of golden kernels. But for about 60 years, people have been screwing things up for us.


It started with a guy named “Dusty” Rhodes (not to be confused, “Duss,” with the American Dream). A horticulture honcho at the University of Illinois, “Dusty” and his boys (it was 1953, so we’re pretty sure it was “the boys”) isolated what they called the “sugary enhancer” trait. This genetic gem spurred the development of corn with a much longer shelf life, though in our opinion much less taste. Now America is awash in “supersweet” varieties such as Silver Queen, Peaches’n’Cream and Illini Xtra Sweet, which we avoid as best we can by asking for the “least sweet” option from our sometimes confused Southern stalwart vendors. What might further confuse Southerners is what we do next: prepare “fried corn” without any added sugar or cream. We’re quite obviously not averse to either, and we occasionally indulge in a creamy corn pudding ourselves. But we quest for heritage corn because we want to bring out the sugar it’s supposed to have—and our way of making “fried corn” does that and more. We like this dish because it’s not only tasty, but versatile. The pan-fried kernels can find their way onto pizzas or into quesadillas or tacos as well as serving as a tasty side dish.

We may not know nothin’ about birthin’ babies. But we do know corn is supposed to be corn, not candy.



  • 6 ears fresh corn
  • 2-3 TB. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped in pieces about the size of corn kernels
  • 1 or 2 small green peppers (such as Poblanos or Anaheims), chopped in pieces about the size of corn kernels
  • 1 or 2 small red peppers or 1 large red bell pepper, chopped in pieces about the size of corn kernels
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional: butter, red pepper flakes, freshly ground toasted cumin seeds, chopped cilantro and/or lime juice

Remove kernels from corn cob, using a sharp knife.

Heat olive oil in a large (preferably not nonstick) skillet. Add onions and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. When onions are soft, add peppers. Continue to cook, stirring, until onions are beginning to caramelize. Then add garlic and corn and some salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for a couple of minutes. Increase heat to high and cook, stirring constantly. The sugars of the corn will caramelize on the bottom of the pan—just stir the browned bits into the corn using a spatula. Remove from heat when corn is fully cooked and just starting to brown in spots. Taste for seasoning. Add some or all of the optional ingredients.


  1. Janet Rörschåch

    1) Love the links. 2) Add limas and it looks like my mama’s succotash. 😉 3) The photo of the marigolds (? I really don’t know flowers) is spectacular. 4) Amen, sister.

    • 1) Steve thanks you much for viewing his links. He loves that part of it. 2) Your mama was obviously a good cook. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as they say. 3) Those are zinnias. Aren’t they beautiful? Some friends of ours grow them on their fab organic farm. 4) Amen, indeed!

  2. The flowers are so beautiful. The steamed corns are favorite summer snack for Koreans, but Korean corns are not so sweat that we have to add quite an amount of sugar when we steam them.

    • Thank you, Jessie! I wish I could say that I grew the flowers. I have little luck with zinnias, but I have friends who are genius growers. So interesting—I had no idea that you all ate corn in Korea. But it’s delicious, so why not?

    • I know. I’m a traitor to my state. 🙂 Actually, I have a much higher tolerance for sweet than Steve does. And I agree: any corn right from the garden with butter, salt and pepper is divine.

  3. I too prefer to do without the sugar in fried corn. There are actually a few things that people add sugar too that I would really prefer that they not (i.e. pickles). This looks terrific and sugar-free!

    • I have a much higher tolerance for sweet than Steve does. But it does seem to me, especially with the varieties that we get now, that they’re sweet enough. Tonight we made a Judy Rodgers recipe for corn and (we used country) ham with pasta. Even though we cut the restaurant-level butter by well more than half, it was still incredibly sweet and delicious.

  4. I confess that I love sweet corn because I grew up in California eating corn that was not sweet at all. I moved to Wisconsin for a couple of years and I could not believe the difference in the corn they had in that state. The Wisconsinites called our corn “pig corn” and wouldn’t touch it. However, I never had the not-so-sweet corn the way you cooked it. It looks like something Yes!Chef! would like to make. I talked him into making corn fritters last night and they were pretty durn tasty. I love corn.

  5. I love corn. I really don’t like sweet corn. So much of what we get here is over sweet and not very nice. When I visit France, if the time of year is right, we can get some of the good stuff. Delicious on the bbq.

    • That’s interesting, Conor. I always think of the French as being in the “it’s only duck or pig food or for car fuel” camp (though god knows you see enough growing in the countryside). But Steve reminded me that we have seen corn at a few markets in France. Do you all not grow corn in Ireland? Regardless, your’e right: it’s delicious grilled.

  6. Name any produce that hasn’t been “engineered” to last longer, bruise less, and ripen quicker? If they wish to play god, so be it. Just give me the choice when I’m shopping.
    Unlike my Nonna on my Dad’s side — who refused to eat corn, calling it pig food — I enjoy corn just about any way it can be prepared. Fried is a favorite and I’ll be giving your recipe a go. It’s got corn and it’s got garlic. How could I not?

    • Now that is really interesting, John, and sent me back to your “About” page. So, your paternal grandmother was from San Marino. Wouldn’t that be considered part of Northern Italy? Did she eat polenta, though? Or is that one of the pasta-only regions? Italian food traditions are so difficult for outsiders like me to learn! But, yes, you’re exactly right. If folks (or, as well all know, corporations) must engineer, go for it. But please leave us the choice of buying the real varieties.

    • Thanks much, Arlene! Can’t take much credit for the banner though. It was created by some poor Russian back in the 1920s, probably trying desperately to make collectivism look like a great idea as many of his countrymen starved as a result of it. But Steve did do a great job adapting a small part of the poster for our modern purposes.

  7. Pingback: Zucchini pancakes with fried corn & sungolds, for when summer continues to linger… | Attempts in Domesticity

Leave a Reply to Martha Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: