The Corn Identity

What's in Season



Technically, corn knows no season. We consume it every day of every month, as sweetener, additive, starch, or oil. If you’re factually inclined, corn derivatives appear in more than 4,000 grocery-store items. It’s our country’s—and the world’s—most cultivated grain.

But hey, it’s summer, time to forego these complexities for simplicities. Those swollen husks piling at the greenmarket are a seasonal totem: verdant pyramids encasing a treasure of sweet corn flavor. Salsas, salads, puddings, and soups: claim your prize.

Sweet corn, first known to be cultivated by the Iroquois, is today bred in hundreds of iterations of sweetness, color, and texture. It is harvested young, since maturation induces sugar-to-starch conversion. So forget practicality and shop when you’re hungry. In this season, instant gratification rules.

And corn gratification abounds on the menu at Comfort (583 Warburton Ave, Hastings-on-Hudson 914-478-0666; comfortrestaurant.net). It studs a quinoa and black-bean salsa with glowing kernels. It wraps a shrimp po’ boy in a corn-flour sheath. It puts red snapper on a polenta-square pedestal. Asian-style roasted chicken is coddled with a pillow of corn soufflé. Chef/owner John Halko just can’t help himself; he’s an Alabama boy, and corn on his menu is as thick as a Southern drawl. He’s shed the accent, but corn, he says, is forever. “I love the textures that it imparts,” he states. “It’s so versatile. You’ve got the hearty flavor of coarse cornmeal for breading catfish and hush puppies, the more delicate flavor of a finer grind for coating shrimp or chicken.” And then there are the health benefits, a hallmark of Halko’s cooking. “Corn has no gluten, and when I first developed my menu, I wanted options for children on a gluten-free diet.” His taco shells and corn-flour-breaded chicken fingers remain Comfort mainstays.

For all its virtues, fresh corn is impatient, turning tough and starchy within days. But once cooked, it’s as lazy as a seaside afternoon. So savor your lager or rosé a little longer—those ears sitting in the pot of water you forgot to drain will be fine. And those cobs lying on the picnic table since noon? No problem. If you don’t get to them at all, that’s fine too. Grab a knife, scrape off the kernels, and freeze them. They’ll be a vibrant balm in a distant, darker season.

Quinoa with Corn and Black-Bean Salsa
Courtesy of John Halko, Comfort
(Yield: about 6 cups)

2 cups dry quinoa
2 ½ cups water
2 cups cut corn, precooked
1 cup black beans, rinsed
1 cup tomatoes, coarsely chopped
½ cup green bell pepper, diced (optional)
⅓ cup red onion, diced
½ cup cilantro, coarsely chopped, or to taste
Juice of 1 large lime
2 tsp jalapeño, minced, or to taste
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp garlic, minced
½ tsp fresh-ground black pepper
½ to 1 tsp salt, or to taste

In a dry, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, toast quinoa for 5 to 6 minutes (you will hear popping sounds). When quinoa is lightly colored and gives off a nutty aroma, add water to cover quinoa by ¼ to ½ inch.

Reduce heat and cover pot to steam quinoa. Cook for 10 minutes, without stirring, then remove from heat, keeping covered. Check to see that all the water has been absorbed; if not, allow more cooking time.

In about 5 minutes after the cooking has stopped, remove quinoa from pot and spread on sheet pan to cool. In large bowl, toss quinoa with remaining ingredients. Serve with grilled meats, fish, or poultry.