Chef’s Roundtable story: Sweet, sweet corn
October 8, 2013
When you're a kid, the end of summer means one thing: the end of freedom. Maybe that's why the season's final sun-drenched days inspire such a powerful urge to savor every last kernel of what's left. Especially in the literal sense, when what you're savoring are the juicy kernels of the hero of all vegetables: fresh, sweet corn. Kids love it, adults feel like kids when they eat it, and chefs love preparing it. And some of the best corn in the country is grown right here in Colorado.
A hundred years of altitude
"One of the biggest factors is our climate," said Brian Freeman, of Grower's Organic, a Denver-based organic produce wholesaler. "There can be a 25-degree temperature difference from night to day. Another reason Colorado corn is so sweet could be that the same strain has been growing here for more than a hundred years — Mother Nature has perfected it."
The tender sweetness of Olathe sweet corn, native to Colorado's Western Slope, sparks both childhood memories and professional creativity in Anthony LaRosa, executive chef at Vail's Larkspur restaurant.
"I have some great memories of eating corn as a kid — grilling it with the husk still on, peeling it while hot and spinning it on a whole butter stick," LaRosa said. "I remember the corn kernels leaving an indented pattern in the butter. And I love grilling it for my own kids. My daughter's more particular, though — she needs to use her own corn cob holders."
To celebrate its exceptional flavor, LaRosa features corn in a few ways on Larkspur's summer menu.
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"We serve our pan-seared Scottish salmon with warm corn, chanterelle mushrooms, Sea of Cortez shrimp and tomatoes, then finish it with a prawn broth to pull the dish together," LaRosa said. "And we're about to add a fresh corn risotto to our late summer/early fall menu. We'll start that with a corn milk base, made by grating fresh corn kernels. It will also feature fresh cherry tomatoes and peppers from Wynn Farms and LaVenture Farms, respectively. Corn and tomatoes are both at their peak now, so they're natural complements."
Kernels of summer
At Avon's Vin48, executive chef Charles Hayes is also featuring seasonal locally-grown corn on his summer menu.
"I was just back in upstate New York, where I grew up, and we ate corn every day," Hayes said. "It's so great just steamed with black pepper."
Vin48 buys its corn from Clark's Family Orchards at the Edward's Farmers Market.
"To prepare it, we take a bit of the outer husk off, soak the cobs in water overnight so the husk gets wet and it steams while it's on the grill," Hayes said. "Then we cut the corn off the cob, toss the kernels in a little oil and serve it with pan-seared scallops, with a poblano and white chocolate mole sauce."
Hayes reserves the stripped cobs to make a corn stock for soups and risotto by boiling them in water with onions and parsley stems.
Ears and beers
Located right next to Crazy Mountain Brewery in Edwards, the Crazy Wagon food truck serves up a modern, street version of global comfort food and has featured corn a few different ways throughout the summer season.
"The theme of our grand opening was 'Colorado Harvest,'" chef David Nowakowski said. "We bought cases of Olathe corn and did it very simply: whole ears boiled and brushed with a slightly melted butter seasoned with ground chilies, lime and salt. Lately, I've been buying fresh Olathe sweet corn from the Ripe Stand here in Edwards, where farmers from Palisade and Grand Junction sell fresh produce Monday through Thursday. I use it in our veggie quesadilla — cut fresh from the cob, sauteed and mixed with garden tomatoes, basil, goat cheese, cheddar and jack. With the brewery next door, it makes it easy for customers to get food from our truck, grab a beer and sit at a table in our garden to enjoy."
A cold beer and fresh sweet corn, enjoyed al fresca in the high Rockies? Sounds like a perfect way to savor these last fleeting days of freedom. I mean, summer.
Madeleine Berenson is a freelance writer contracted by Larkspur Restaurant. Larkspur (www.larkspurvail.com), at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999.
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