Corn on the Cob with Basil Butter
In my book, fresh corn on the cob is at the very top of my list of favorite foods. I guess I got this from my mother, Janet Chamberlin Smith. She was raised in a tiny hamlet in Northwestern Ohio, surrounded by farmland and a culture of rural values, and she always made a point of making friends with the local farmers. Her method of cooking corn was to put a pot of water on to boil and then call down the road: "Mabel? Could you send one of your girls out to pick me a dozen?"
She was, probably without knowing why, in tune with the chemistry of corn, because once the corn is separated from the stalk chemical changes are set in motion. Within a day the sugars that make the corn so addictive start to change to starches and the flavor is lost. So, the first rule of corn-on-the-cob is to find a source of today's harvest. This can be a problem in cities, but usually you can find a farmers' markets where the corn you buy at noon was probably harvested within the last day. I'm in heaven, now that I live in Maine, because no matter which way I go when I leave the house I've got several sources of fresh-picked corn.
Once you've got a good source of corn, you need to know what to do with it. It seems to me that there's a lot of confusion about this, so let me just clear it all up now. There is only one correct way to handle corn on the cob: 1) refrigerate it until you are ready to shuck and cook it; 2) shuck it just before cooking; 3) to cook it, drop the ears into rapidly boiling unsalted water, wait a minute until the water starts moving again, turn off the heat and cover for five minutes. At this point the corn is ready, but it can stay in the water as long as you want.
Of course, corn is best with a little butter and salt, and before I developed my problem with black pepper I always liked a grinding of pepper on it. Recently, though, I've moved into a new realm with corn, serving it with Basil Butter. As Emeril Lagasse might say, this kicks it up a notch!
Basil Butter is pretty simple: soften one stick of butter (I just microwave it for a few seconds) and, with a rubber spatula, mix in four tablespoonsful of minced fresh basil.
Just picked corn, Basil Butter, fresh tomatoes, a grilled piece of fresh fish or a juicy hamburger: life is good here in Maine!