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.