Christen Paulin, of Windham, buys corn from Merrifield Farm’s stand at the Portland Farmers’ Market in August. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

With fresh sweet corn season in full swing, we gleaned some corn wisdom from area experts to help you make the most of one of the year’s most eagerly anticipated ingredients.

Many Maine farmers are reporting good corn crops so far, which bodes well both for availability and quality of Maine sweet corn. “Right now, it looks pretty good,” Penny Jordan of Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth said in late August, noting that barring an early hard frost on the coast, she expects to be selling corn through the end of October.

“It’s been a slow start,” she said. “We had that rain, and then we didn’t have a lot of heat that corn likes. Then we finally got some heat. The first few stands of corn were a little slow, but now things seems to be looking OK.”

As for the taste of this year’s crop, Jordan replied without hesitation. “Our corn is always sweet. It’s the best corn around.”

We gathered tips for selecting, storing and cooking corn – even how to use the stripped cobs and silks – from four area chefs: Christian Bassett of Union restaurant; Mitchell Ryan of Via Vecchia; David Turin of David’s restaurant and David’s 388 in South Portland; and Juan Pacheco of Crown Jewel on Great Diamond Island. Our culinary consultants shared smart ways to prepare your corn sugar-sweet and tender, deeply caramelized and smoky, or something in between, so it can suit a variety of tastes and needs.



Husk leaves: For savvy shoppers, fresh corn in the husk provides a few visual cues to how fresh and sweet it is. All the chefs said they seek out firm ears with snug-fitting husk leaves. Bassett looks for deep green leaves.

“The greener, the fresher,” he said, noting that the verdant color means the leaves haven’t yet had a chance to oxidize and turn brown. “I’m looking for the greenest (husk-on) corn available. Some people like to split it open to see what the kernels look like, but I can pretty much tell without having to open it based on the color of the husk.”

“It’s nice to see a deep green husk outside,” said Ryan. “Husks that are a little more yellow mean the corn was struggling when it was growing and didn’t get the proper water, basically.”

Silks: The corn silks, too, give helpful freshness cues. Those gossamer threads should be pale green, white or golden. Dark brown or black silks mean the corn isn’t optimally fresh.

The silks should also be partially dried, rather than damp and soggy. “When the silks are a little more damp looking, the corn has probably sat around in big piles,” Ryan said. “If they’re more dry looking, it’s reached that level of sweetness you’re looking for.”

Kernels: Turin said he’s among those who peel back the husk slightly to peek at the kernels, checking to see if many kernels are missing from the top of the ear, or if they’re underdeveloped. “If I peel the husk back and (the top of the ear) is covered in tiny little kernels, I usually skip that ear,” he said.


Ryan uses a nifty trick to check the sweetness of the corn: He peels back the husk slightly and punctures a kernel to check whether the juice that comes out is clear or milky.

“Usually, the clearer the liquid, the less sweet the corn will be,” Ryan said. “When it starts to get a little more cloudy, that’s when you’re in the better kind of corn. Look for milkier juice.”

Pacheco uses another tactile approach he learned from his grandmother. He first checks to make sure the stem end of the ear is slightly moist, because dryness means the corn probably wasn’t picked recently.

Then he peels back the husk a little to reveal the kernels. “When you press a little bit on the kernels on the top, if you hear a little crackling sound, a little like when you squeeze popped popcorn, that lets you know it’s fresh and juicy,” Pacheco said. “That’s what my grandmother taught me. I’ve been using it my whole life, and it’s worked well.”


Our chef panel strongly recommended using your corn as soon as possible after you buy it. The more time that passes after an ear is picked, the more of the corn’s sugar turns to starch, and refrigerating speeds that starch conversion.


If you’re not cooking the corn for a day or two, though, your best bet is still the refrigerator. Store ears with their husks on in the vegetable crisper drawer. If you’re cooking the corn the same day you bought it, store the ears at room temperature.

Union Chef Christian Bassett shucks corn after cooking it on the charbroiler. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


Steaming: Our chefs cautioned against boiling fresh corn, which can leach out flavor and nutrients into the water. Instead, Turin suggests steaming shucked ears for four to five minutes in a pan with 1/4-inch of water in the bottom.

Grilling: The chefs prefer to cook corn with its husk on over a grill, which is essentially a form of dry-heat steaming. Some liked to give the ears a quick dip in water first to hydrate the husk and help keep the leaves from catching fire as they cook over hot flames. There’s no need to remove the silks first; they’ll come off easily along with the husks after the corn has cooked.

Bassett said he grills presoaked ears for 12-15 minutes over direct heat, turning occasionally, noting that water from the soak helps create heat convection evenly through the ear. “This way, it will cook more evenly all the way through, and then you get that wholesome corn flavor all the way through,” he said. “I want to create the corniest natural flavor possible.”

Ryan soaks his ears in water for about half an hour before putting them on the grill for 20-25 minutes. “All the sugary goodness is in there, and also some of the ends tend to get a little roasted so it picks up some of that caramelization flavor,” he said, noting that he’ll sometimes peel the husks back from the grilled ears and give them a couple more minutes over the heat for added color and caramelization.


Pacheco likes to grill corn with all but one or two husk leaves (and all the silks) removed. “That way, you have some toasty flavor, but you don’t burn the corn,” he said. Pacheco grills these partly shucked ears for about 15 minutes, turning three times.

At Crown Jewel, because the corn flavor needs to be even more concentrated in the dishes where he uses the kernels, Pacheco grills fully shucked ears for a little more than 20 minutes. “We make sure to char and not burn it, because it’s a really big difference,” he said.

This method intensely caramelizes the corn sugars and gives the kernels deep color, making the corn perfect as an accent ingredient in dishes like his shrimp ceviche with corn, passion fruit and toasted coconut; burrata salad with nectarines; or a relish with black trumpet mushrooms, tomatoes and cilantro served with whitefish.

Roasting: If grilling isn’t a convenient option, the oven can lend a similar husk-steamed effect. Ryan cooks sets the temp at 425 degrees F, and roasts the whole ears, husks-on, for 20-25 minutes. This approach also helps avoid flareups, since open flames won’t cause the husks to ignite.

Hominy Succotash at Union, made with corn, sweet potatoes, and red Fresno peppers. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


Corn on the cob dressed with butter, salt and pepper is an iconic summer dish that doesn’t need further embellishment. But the chefs said they love making corn chowder, too, using fresh corn stock (see HOW TO USE MORE OF THE WHOLE EAR below).


Bassett also works his grilled corn into a hominy succotash at Union, along with soldier beans, spigarello greens, sweet potato and red Fresno peppers.

Ryan makes a polenta he elevates with fresh corn, which he says makes a great accompaniment for naturally sweet seafood like scallops and lobster. He also uses corn in a ravioli dish at Via Vecchia with garlic ricotta, lobster, tomato fonduta, fresh basil and stracciatella cheese.

Turin said one of his favorite uses for corn is elotes, or Mexican street corn slathered with seasoned mayonnaise and sprinkled with cheese. He also makes dishes like corn and tomato risotto; lobster, sweet potato and roasted corn cakes; and skillet corn bread with fresh corn.

Turin highly recommends using grilled corn in fresh salsas, since the juicy kernels make great partners for ingredients like avocado, mango or pineapple.


Cobs: Experienced cooks know not to throw away a corn cob stripped of its kernels. Instead, it can be used as the base of a flavorful and versatile corn stock, because of the “corn milk” – the intensely sweet, cloudy corn juices – trapped inside.


Turin said he first came to learn about the treasure of flavor within a stripped cob when he was a kid watching his grandfather eat corn.

“My grandfather was the most disgusting person to eat corn with,” Turin said. “He would eat the corn off the cob, then he would literally chew the cob. Like, he would bite pieces of the cob off, chew on them, then spit the rest of the cob out on his plate. And it was revolting.”

But in doing so, his grandfather was extracting all the corn milk from the cob. “He would say that’s the best part of the corn, and he’s right,” Turin said.

Bassett simmers his grill-steamed, stripped cobs in water for about an hour to fully pull out all the corn flavor. Pacheco makes his corn stock at Crown Jewel by covering 12 cobs (stripped of the fully caramelized grilled corn) in a large pot with five liters of water. He simmers the mixture for 10 minutes then strains the stock, which he uses as the base for soups and sauces, and anywhere he needs a quick hit of sweet corn flavor.

“It’s really simple, and gives you great caramelized corn flavor,” he said. “The Japanese use the dashi (fish and kelp broth), we use the corn stock.”

Silk: Bassett shared a genius tip for using corn silks. He dries the silks for six hours in a dehydrator set at 120 degrees F. Then he fries the dried silks at relatively low temperatures (275-300 degrees) until they’re browned and crisp.


“The texture is almost like a chip – crispy, but it has a sweet subtle corn flavor to it,” said Bassett, who uses the fried silks to garnish a pork belly dish. “The color is pretty extravagant. It gets a nice golden amber hue. That’s a real crowd-pleaser, right there.”

Mexican Street Corn

Recipe from David’s Restaurant

Serves 4

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 lime, cut in half (reserve half for juice, cut other half into 4 wedges for serving)
1/2 teaspoon dark chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
4 ears corn
3/4 cup queso blanco, pecorino Romano, feta or cotija cheese
Sea salt or kosher salt, to taste
Freshly cracked pepper

Combine the mayonnaise, a squeeze from the lime half, the chili powder and ground cumin.


Without husking the corn, remove the loose husks and exposed silk from each ear.

Place the ears in their husks directly on a medium-hot preheated grill. Cook the corn, turning regularly for 6-8 minutes.

Remove the corn from the grill and husk just 1 side, leaving the pulled-back husks on the corn to use as a handle.

Brush the exposed corn liberally with 3/4 of the mayo mixture, then return the corn to the grill with the open side of the corn face-up.

After the mayo has melted into the corn, roll the corn over so the exposed kernel side is face down on the grill. Cook just long enough to color some of the corn.

Remove the grilled corn from the grill and place on a serving platter.


Brush the remaining mayo mixture onto the corn, crumble the cheese onto the open side of the corn, season with salt and pepper and squeeze 1 wedge of lime on each ear.

Corn Oysters

Recipe from “Maine Home Cooking” by Sandra L. Oliver. The method for these (actually oysterless) little corn cakes takes advantage of the corn milk in the cobs. “My old original recipe said to grate the corn from the cob, and you can do that if you wish, but I have found that if I cut the corn by slicing off the kernel tops in one pass, then cut close to the cob in a second pass, and scrape the cob with the back of the knife on a third pass, I accomplish much the same end,” Oliver writes.

Serves 4

2 cups corn pulp, about 2 to 3 ears
2 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons melted butter
Salt and pepper, to taste

Grate or cut the corn from the cobs and put into a bowl. Beat in the egg yolks, flour, butter, salt and pepper. Beat the whites in a separate bowl until they form soft peaks, then fold into the corn mixture. Drop by spoonfuls onto a hot, oiled frying pan or griddle and cook until golden, then turn to brown the other side. Place in the oven to keep them warm while you finish frying the whole batch.

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