January 14, 2013
pudding de maïs
Alternate introductory paragraph one: I couldn’t eat corn without those things. They were plastic with two spikes on one end that, when inserted into a corn cob, made it possible for my chubby little hands to hold the hot, buttered cob. The plastic parts were yellow and molded to resemble a corn cob, albeit one that was quite flat. Without the two holders, the corn cob was just too hot and messy for me to handle. One day, one went missing, and my corn‑on‑the‑cob eating career came to an end.
Alternate introductory paragraph two: Corn on the cob was tolerable, but creamed corn, canned corn, and frozen corn were abominable. Cut corn kernels mixed with any other vegetable was inedible to me. Before serving me a fresh, boiled yellow cob of corn, my mother slathered a generous amount of butter on it. I managed to eat it, but in truth there were more kernels left on the cob then had entered my mouth.
Alternate introductory paragraph three: When I was working and studying in Rochester, New York, in the early seventies, I’d hear stories of people lining up on warm summer weekend days along the side of the road in the rural area south of town. They’d wait at farm stands for a fresh batch of sweet corn to arrive directly from the fields. The piles of these recently picked and unhusked ears would be snatched up within moments of arrival. A short time later, the side of the road would be filled with people eating the raw corn off the cobs. I was told that they would tell passerbys that if they waited too long, the corn would begin to loose its sweetness and become starchy.
Alternate introductory paragraph four: What do Country Gentleman, Silver Queen, Stowell’s Evergreen, Sugar Pearl, Cloud Nine, Whiteout, How Sweet It Is, Aspen, Cinderella, XTH 3673, and Devotion have in common? They are all names of white sweet corn seed varieties. Additionally, each variety fits into one of five descriptive categories: standard, sugary extender, supersweet, synergistic, and augmented supersweet. The categories refer to how sugary the kernels are and how long they maintain that sugariness rather than becoming starchy.
Alternate introductory paragraph five: At the end of September of 2012, I attended the International Chefs Conference in New York City. One Monday afternoon, I was sitting at a demonstration being given by a chef from a hip, white‑tablecloth restaurant in Atlanta. As the chef continued to over garnish his not too exciting dishes, I tried not to appear too disconcerted by the whole presentation. Then he described something that caught my attention. He said that he took a pound of corn kernels, covered them with corn milk or water, added a teaspoon of salt, and left the mixture to sour on the counter for a couple of days. He next said, with no explanation as to how, that he turned the results into a form of pastry cream. What caught my ear most was the phrase “corn milk.”
From earlier research, I knew that corn kernels were composed of about one‑fifth carbohydrates, and of this, only about a quarter could be attributed to sugars and fiber. This possibly left a lot of starch. Could I heat the corn milk and use the built‑in starch to create a one‑ingredient pudding?
Ignoring all the salacious comments that one could make about milking an ear of corn, I began to think of a process for extracting the liquid from the cob. I don’t possess a masticating juicer like the Atlanta chef had. I thought about putting the whole ear in my centrifugal juicer but worried about any less than stellar liquid from the center of the cob. I decided to extract the juice using the same technique I use for fruit. I cut the kernels from a cob, and placed them in a mini‑food processor. I held the high‑speed button down until I could smell the motor overheating. I know from experience that there are usually benefits from pureeing for much longer than logic would dictate.
I transferred the mash from the bowl of the processor to the center of a square piece of unbleached muslin. The ends were gathered and the resulting “package” was twisted and squeezed to extract the juice. I transferred the juice to a small saucepan, and placed it over high heat. I continually whisked the juice while it rapidly heated. Within a few seconds I had what appeared to be a very smooth pudding in the bottom of the saucepan. A quick taste later, I was convinced that I was onto something. (But not quite all the way there yet.)
The favor seems ever‑so‑slightly flat. The cure for this usually is to just add salt. I stirred in what I thought was a minuscule pinch, but the results tasted slightly salty.
I also wondered how the mixture would hold. I divided it between a couple of shot glasses, which I then placed in the refrigerator. A couple of hours later, when I removed the glasses from the fridge to serve as a little amuse‑bouche
before dinner, I was disappointed to see that the pudding had suffered a bit from syneresis
. The released liquid could be stirred into the cooked mass, but the result was not very exciting.
The next evening my son was coming for dinner. I decided to try again. I purchased another ear of corn and juiced it like before. I added a pinch of piment d’espelette to the juice, and set the juice aside in a saucepan until dinner time. When he arrived, I heated the liquid as before, and we ate the fresh‑out‑of‑the saucepan pudding from shot glasses. The flavor was much better, but the piment was a little coarse. The individual piment pieces effected the smoothness of the pudding.
I was a bit disappointed because I value one‑ingredient dishes for their pure flavors, but I also realized that some enhancement was necessary for the pudding to fulfill its destiny.
A few days later I decided to try again. This time I purchased two ears of corn. These produced enough kernels to adequately fill the jar on my Vitamix. I turned the machine on, and left it to do its thing for seven or eight minutes. The resulting puree was much improved over what I could obtain with the small food processor. Even though the puree appeared to be absolutely smooth, I could still perceive a small amount of “skin” from the kernels when I tasted the “milk.” After a little straining, the guilty pieces were gone.
I didn’t have an immediate need for the corn juice, so I decided to freeze it. I grabbed a small silicone‑rubber mold with nine disc‑shaped cavities. Each cavity holds about 20 milliliters (4 teaspoons) of liquid, which serendipitously is the amount needed for a single portion. The two ears produced the right amount of juice to fill the mold to the brim with a little left over for spillage. The mold was placed in my freezer overnight, and the following morning, the frozen discs were transferred a storage container.
The next day, while I was otherwise occupied in the kitchen, I removed a disc from the freezer and placed it in a small saucepan on the countertop. A short while later, the corn juice was fluid once again. There appeared to be some separation of the thawed juice, but a quick stir with a spoon corrected this. I added a very small pinch of finely ground morita chipotle
pepper to the juice. The pepper is labeled by its supplier, Kalustyan’s
, as “50‑60% Hot In Heat Scale,” whatever that means.
When the hob was very hot, the saucepan was placed over the heat. After a few seconds of whisking, the pudding was ready to serve. As can be seen in the above picture, I’ve switched from a shot glass to a wide‑bottomed soup spoon for serving. The chipotle pepper was ground finely enough so its texture is imperceptible, and the pudding no longer tasted a little flat.