Fresh sweet corn must be cooked and is generally steamed or boiled and served as a side dish. Strip off the husks and silk just before cooking.
To boil, bring a large pot of water to bubble over high heat. Cook in batches, with husks and silks removed, adding a few ears at a time, so the water continues boiling. For fresh young corn, cook for 30 seconds—just long enough to heat the corn through; boil more mature corn for up to three minutes. Do not add salt to cooking water since that will toughen the corn.
To steam, remove husks, arrange corn on a steaming rack, and place the rack over about 1 inch (2.5cm) of water. Bring to a boil, cover, and steam for about 10 minutes.
Grilled corn on the cob is a summertime favorite. (The cob or the ear of the corn plant is actually a branch.) First, peel back the husks and remove the silk, then bring the husk back over the cob. Soak the corn ears in their husks in cold water for a few hours before grilling—this moisture will let the corn steam as it grills, making it juicier. To grill, wrap each ear of corn tightly in aluminum foil, place on a prepared preheated medium-hot grill, and cook for about 30 minutes, turning occasionally, until corn is tender. Serve hot off the grill, with butter or margarine, if desired.
Corn husks are used primarily in making tamales, but they are also used to wrap other foods for steaming. Latin markets sell packaged cornhusks, which must be softened before using. To do so, soak husks in very hot water for about 30 seconds, then drain, pat dry, and use according to the recipe.
Fresh corn kernels may be used as an ingredient in soups, stews, casseroles, puddings, relishes, and breads.
Corn is used to make cornmeal, which is simply finely ground corn kernels. Cornmeal is used to make cornbread. A coarser grind is also used to make polenta, a popular Italian dish. Polenta can be served hot with butter or margarine, if desired, or cooled until firm and then cut into squares and fried. It is often mixed with cheese and topped with savory vegetables.
Corn is also used to make masa, the form of cornmeal used in tortillas. Cornstarch is derived from the endosperm portion of the corn kernel and is most commonly used as a thickening agent.
Hominy, served as a side dish or as a casserole ingredient, is another way of preparing corn. A staple of the American Indians, hominy is made from dried white or yellow corn kernels from which the tough hull and germ have been removed. It is available canned, ready-to-eat, or dried. Usually, ground hominy is called “grits.” This side dish is prepared by simmering the corn bits with water or milk until thick, much like oatmeal.