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COVER STORY

Corny Advice

July 05, 1996|MARGARET SHERIDAN

Corn loves warm, dry weather. So from now through September, farmers are picking and husking like mad. With the current rate at the stands of three ears for $1, it pays to be a smart shopper.

VARIETIES

The more than 200 varieties of sweet corn are usually grouped by the color of the kernel--yellow, bi-color and white.

Recently, the public has come to prefer the super-sweet varieties. You can tell super-sweet corn by its looks. The kernels are small and tightly packed.

Bantam and Jubilee, the varieties most of us grew up with, are still around. Their plump, golden-yellow kernels are heavier and less tender than those of super-sweet corn.

It's your choice. The industry says younger corn lovers prefer the sweeter varieties with their tender kernels. They can be yanked from the field and eaten on the spot; no cooking necessary. The kernels burst in the mouth like Roman candles and don't stick to the teeth. And these varieties cook faster than the traditional ones.

Fans of the old-fashioned varieties appreciate its heaviness, the way it can hold its own in boiling water, on the grill or buried in the coals without the need of a stopwatch. But it has a finicky side. It has to be eaten exactly at the moment of ripeness. The longer it stays in the field or in storage, the more the taste changes from sweet to sour and bitter.

BUYING

Inspect before you buy. If the corn hasn't been husked, tear the husk open an inch or two. Look for intact kernels, even rows and overall good condition. Pierce a kernel with a fingernail. If the corn is ripe, the kernel will exude a thin, milky liquid; if not, it will give water. If the corn is past its prime, the kernels will be tough and the milk thick. The yield from 6 plump ears is about 2 1/2 cups of kernels.

STORAGE

If corn cannot be cooked immediately, leave it in the husk and store in the coolest spot in the refrigerator. Use within one or two days. If already husked, store in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator.

COOKING

To boil: All you need is a pot of boiling water and a timer that goes up to 8 minutes. Start timing the corn from the minute the water returns to the boil. Don't add salt to the water; it toughens the corn.

To grill: Select heavy ears with intact husks. Trim the excess silks and husk, which can be fire hazards. Soak ears in cold water for about 30 minutes; this keeps the husks moist during cooking. Then place the ears on the grill and turn often. Figure about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on heat.

To microwave: Many people swear this is the best way to cook corn on the cob. The ears can be cooked in the husk; if they have been husked, wrap in wax paper or microwaveable plastic wrap. For one medium ear, microwave on high (100% power) 3 to 6 minutes, turning over once. Let stand, wrapped, 1 minute. For two ears, microwave on high 4 to 9 minutes, turning over once. Let stand, wrapped, 1 to 2 minutes.

To test for doneness, press kernels with fingers or a utensil; the kernels should be slightly resistant. They will become more tender during the standing time.

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