Driving home the other day I saw a lovely sight: a dusty red truck parked in an empty lot next to a gas station. The truck was swathed with a yellow cloth banner reading “Fresh Moriarty Sweet Corn.”
I missed the turn for the lot, and confess that I made some rather foolish driving maneuvers getting turned around and into the (weirdly packed) parking lot of the gas station next door. But it was worth it. A couple minutes of awkward small talk and $3 later, I was driving home with six ears of beautiful, fresh New Mexico sweet corn.
Last night I had two ears left, and I wanted to make something simple and pure that would really highlight the flavor of the corn. An idea popped into my head – custard. Not a corn pudding (which was the destination of the first four ears), but a smooth puree. Pure corn essence. A steamed pudding, I thought – no heating the oven. Something along the lines of Japanese chawanmushi, a delicate steamed egg custard that I love.
I found a recipe online that seemed similar to what I was planning, but it called for boiling the corn kernels for a few minutes before using them. That seemed like a great way to water down its flavor and lose the corn essence that I wanted to maintain at all costs. So I worked with raw corn, adding nothing but a little milk, an egg, and some salt.
When I removed the custards from the steamer and had a taste, I was ecstatic. They were just what I had envisioned: perfect, essence-of-summer corn flavor with a texture like velvet. I did kind of wish I had put them in different ramekins, though, as the cunning little eggplant-shaped cups I used were pretty much the same color as the custard, leaving a very beige visual impression. It was hard to care, though. They sure tasted gorgeous.
Though the ingredients list here is simple, there are several steps: cutting the kernels off the cob, blending them, straining them, and steaming. None are arduous, but you probably don’t want to make this if you’re in a hurry. For me the straining is somewhat annoying; you could probably skip it, but your final custard won’t be as smooth.
|Balance the strainer handle on something. Like a lemon.|
If you have a steamer, feel free to use it, but you don’t need any special equipment to steam these custards. It’s easy to set up for steaming in any Dutch oven. Simply use a couple of ramekins, well-cleaned tuna cans, or something similar. Place in the bottom and top with a heatproof plate large enough for the cups full of custard, but small enough that steam can circulate freely. Make sure the lid will still fit securely on the Dutch oven, and you’re good to go.
|The base of a simple steamer setup.|
I used a fairly deep container for the custards, but that was a mistake. It’s much easier to tell if the custard is done if you use a wider dish, because you can see if they are set on the edges and just a little jiggly in the middle.
It occurs to me that I recently had a dessert of corn “creme brulee” with cocoa nibs, and if you’re serving adventurous eaters, you could present this as a dessert with the right accompaniments – maybe a sprinkle of cocoa nibs or a crisp little cookie. If doing so, reduce the salt a little and taste your corn mixture for sweetness before adding the egg. My corn was very sweet, but some might require a teaspoon or two of sugar to really work as a dessert.
You can make these ahead and chill them, or serve them right out of the steamer. They are delicious either way.
Steamed Sweet Corn Custard
Serves 2 as a side or 4 as a very small starter
2 ears sparkling-fresh sweet corn
1/3 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions (optional garnish)
Cut the kernels from the corn. Use the back of your knife blade to scrape down the cobs, extracting the flavorful milk; add this to the corn kernels. Put all the corn in a blender with the milk and salt. Blend until very smooth, then strain into a 2-cup measuring cup or similar-sized bowl. You should have about a cup of liquid.
Lightly beat the egg, trying not to incorporate a lot of air. Stir thoroughly into the corn liquid. Pour into 4 small (2-3 ounce) or 2 medium (4-6 ounce) ramekins.
Prep your steamer and bring the water to a boil. Reduce to a steady simmer – a full boil is too hot, and will result in tough custards – then place the custard-filled ramekins inside. Cover and steam. Steaming time will depend on the size of the ramekins and the heat of the steam. Shallow 2-ounce ramekins could take as little as 5 minutes, deep 4-ounce ones as long as 15. When they’re done, the edges will be well set and the centers jiggly, like Jell-O; a slender knife inserted in the center should come out clean. If you have an instant-read thermometer, you want an internal temperature of 160 to 165 degrees. Do your doneness checks quickly; escaping steam will reduce the temperature in your steamer and increase baking time.
Serve hot or chilled, garnished with green onions, if desired.