Sunday, July 8, 2012

Corn Off the Cob: Sauteed Corn with Tasso

                                                                        “Su, Se, sh2”

Sauteed Corn with Tasso

When our daughters were younger and had braces (their “metal munching moon mice” phase), there were foods that they weren’t allowed to have, chief among them was corn on the cob. It was simple enough. We just cut the corn off the cob for them, with my wife and I joining in. So began the corn off the cob years and the recipes it inspired. Today, they still prefer to remove the corn from the cob.

Our first local corn arrived at the farmers market. Those who live further south have been enjoying their local corn while we waited. Yes, fresh corn on the cob was available in the store but it’s not the same thing.

There was a time when the time lag between when corn was picked and when it was eaten meant that the corn tasted more starchy than sweet. Corn used to lose its sweetness within 24 hours of picking. Not so much anymore. The corn shipped to your store had been hybridized to stay sweeter, longer. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Hybridization has been going on for years, a process of breeding and cross-pollinating corn plants for the desired outcome. There is even shorthand for these different varieties. “Su” is short for “sugary,” the oldest variety of sweet corn, from the 1820’s. “Se,” which is “sugar enhanced,” was the first variety to have the desired property of staying sweet longer before turning starchy. Finally, there is the “sh2,” a variety in which the corn is both sweet and stays sweet the longest. All of this interest in sweetness became increasingly popular among farmers in the 1980’s as more corn was grown in Florida.

Corn color preference varies from region to region. White is most preferred here in the mid-Atlantic to the South. Bicolor corn, the result of cross-pollination, is preferred in the Northeast. Yellow corn is the favorite elsewhere. These preferences usually have to do with varieties that were regionally available but rarely are now. Remember “Silver Queen” corn?

This recipe is a new addition to the corn-off-the-cob collection. Tasso is a Southern Louisiana spicy, smoked pork product usually hard to find around here. While thought of as a “ham,” it is made from the shoulder. I found some locally made tasso at the Skippack Farmers Market, a small outdoor market that sits on the western end of the village of Skippack, Pa. (Sundays from 10AM until 1PM).  Freeland Market, who had the tasso, is a recent addition to the Skippack market; they are also at the Pottstown Farmers Market on Saturdays. They offer a variety of smoked and non-smoked meat products. I picked up the tasso in anticipation of fresh local corn.

If you can’t find tasso, you could substitute with some diced andouille sausage, which is made locally by Leidy’s Meats. Either adds a smoky/spicy flavor to the dish.

Sauteed Corn with Tasso
This recipe made three servings but its simple to increase to serve more people.

3 ears of corn
¼ cup diced tasso
½ cup diced red bell pepper
½ cup diced onion
salt and ground black pepper
olive oil and water for cooking

1. Husk the corn. Cut the corn off the cobs; this is made easier if you stand the ear of corn upright in a bowl and cut down from the top of the ear of corn. The falling kernels will stay in the bowl. Set aside.
2. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, swirl in two tablespoons olive oil. Add the diced tasso.  Cook the tasso for 2 to 3 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed, letting the tasso brown slightly. Add the onion and bell pepper and stir. Lower the heat to medium and continue cooking the tasso and vegetables for another 3 to 4 minutes. If the peppers and the onion begin to color, this is alright. Add the corn kernels and stir everything together; season with salt and ground black pepper. If the pan appears dry, add some additional olive oil. Corn off the cob has a tendency to stick to the bottom of the pan as it cooks, so stir frequently. Pour ½ cup water into the pan, stir and reduce the heat. Simmer the mixture for another 4 to 5 minutes, until the corn is tender.

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