Prepare to be amaized
We all know it's delicious gnawed from cob, but the earthy flavour of sweetcorn also goes perfectly with seafood and spice
I’ve always been a huge sweetcorn fan. As a child there was no vegetable I enjoyed more — munching away rabbit-style on the cob was about as fun as it got at dinner time. I still love it served that way but, these days, I often add a little miso or soy to the butter for an additional umami hit. It’s a hell of a combination.
It was a revelation when I actually started cutting the corn off the cob at home. You lose that rustic gnawing experience, but it’s satisfying to slice the kernels off yourself, and the recipe potential is much more exciting.
Sweetcorn is surprisingly versatile. Once it is off the cob you can add it raw to salads, chunky soups and stews, or sauté it in a pan with a little butter. It may look as if you’ve chucked a frankly quite disgusting tin of cooked sweetcorn into your salad, but you’ll know you haven’t – and the taste is fantastic.
Corn, just like fresh peas, does need to be fresh — the more time elapsed since its picking, the tougher and less sweet it becomes. Luckily it’s easy to tell the fresh cobs, especially when still wrapped in their husks. Look for the soft green outer leaves – after a while, they become dry and papery.
These recipes are a good start if cooking with corn in a serious way is new to you. A simple, delicious cornbread is always welcome at the table, particularly when served warm and coated in frankly too much butter. Sweetcorn and crab is a great combination that has developed a bad rep over the years. My version of the classic Chinese soup is a far cry from the takeaway version, though it keeps some of the silky intensity of the original.
Prawns, too, go well with sweetcorn; their earthy sweetness sits well with the saline equivalent in the prawns, and the spice seems to hold it together. These pakoras are a hit with adults and kids and a great base recipe to adapt yourself. Change the spice, ditch the prawns, add some fish – don’t feel you have to follow it too closely as it always turns out well.
What are you waiting for? Just whip some corn off the cob and start cooking.
These are best still warm or lightly grilled with butter. The addition of paprika makes them wonderfully smoky.
90g/3½oz melted butter,
20g/¾oz cold butter for frying
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 large sweetcorn, kernels sliced off
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tsp smoked paprika
150g/5oz plain flour
150g/5oz fine polenta or cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
60g/2 ½oz cheddar, grated
2 eggs 300ml/10
½ fl oz buttermilk
100ml/3 ½ fl oz milk
Preheat oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Prepare a 12-hole muffin tin with a little of the melted butter or arrange 12 muffin cases in a small baking tray.
Melt the 20g of butter in a small pan over a medium-low heat and add the onion and a pinch of salt. Fry gently for 3 minutes before adding the sweetcorn, chilli and paprika and continuing to fry for another 5-8 minutes until the corn is tender.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, polenta, baking powder, sugar, salt and cheddar. Beat the eggs, then combine with the buttermilk and milk before stirring into the dry ingredients, followed by the 90g of melted butter and the fried sweetcorn. Spoon into the muffin tin or cases and place in the oven for 20-25 minutes until they are golden and cooked through. As with cake, you can check that they are cooked by inserting a skewer – if it comes out clean they’re cooked. Eat warm for breakfast with crispy bacon and maple syrup.
Prawn and sweetcorn pakoras
Makes approx 12
2 medium sweetcorns, kernels sliced off
1 onion, very finely chopped
1 green chilli, finely chopped
2cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
A handful of fresh curry leaves
½ tsp turmeric
A pinch of chilli powder
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp salt
Approx 125g/4 ½oz gram flour
Approx 3 tbsp sparkling water
12 small raw prawns, peeled
Vegetable oil, for frying
Yogurt and tamarind purée, to serve (optional)
Coriander leaves, to decorate
Lime, to serve
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the sweetcorn kernels until just tender, about 2 minutes. Drain, leave to cool, then place in a bowl.
Add all the other ingredients except for the prawns, flour, water and oil. Mix well, then gradually start adding the flour, a handful at a time, followed by a tablespoon of water, and mix. Keep adding the flour and water until the mixture comes together and holds its shape when you press a handful of it together. You may not need all the flour.
With wet hands, take a heaped tablespoonful of the mixture and shape it in a ball around the prawn. Place the balls on a piece of greaseproof paper while you heat the oil.
Half-fill a heavy-based pan with oil and put over a medium heat (I sometimes use a wok as it heats up beautifully and it’s easy to see what’s going on). Test the heat of the oil with a chunk of bread; when the bread sizzles and gently turns golden in 30 seconds, the oil is hot enough. Carefully drop the pakoras into the oil and fry for 2-3 minutes until golden and cooked. (You may have to do this in batches.)
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper before serving hot, sprinkled with sea salt and coriander leaves. Delicious served with yogurt and tamarind purée or Indian pickles and chutneys.
Sweetcorn and crab soup with chilli oil
This is my simpler, fresher version of that Chinese dish we all know and
love. You can always use leftover shredded chicken if you are unable to get your hands on crab.
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
3 tbsp mild olive oil
6 tbsp fish sauce
2 medium sweetcorns, kernels sliced off
4 tsp cornflour
200g/7 oz white crabmeat
½ thumb of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
4 spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp Shaoxing or dry sherry
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
Make the chilli oil first. Place the dried chilli in a small pan and cover with the olive oil. Place over medium heat for a few minutes and, just before it comes to the boil, take off the heat and leave to infuse.
Bring 1.2 litres/2 pints of water to the boil and stir in the fish sauce and a big pinch of salt, followed by the kernels. Simmer gently for 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, stir a few tablespoons of water into the cornflour and pour into the soup as well, mixing until it is completely combined. Continue to simmer until the kernels are tender and the soup slightly thickened.
Stir in the crabmeat, ginger, spring onions, soy sauce, sesame oil and Shaoxing and season to taste.
Just before serving bring the soup up to a simmer and very slowly drizzle in the egg white so it creates long white strands in the soup. Simmer for a further minute, then transfer to bowls and spoon over a teaspoon of chilli oil.
In cob we trust: clockwise from above, prawn and sweetcorn pakoras; cornbread muffins; sweetcorn and crab soup with chilli oil