Grilled Mexican Street Corn Salad

I remember the first time that I saw Mexican Street Corn.  I had recently moved to Chicago and was meandering down Wells street which was closed for a summer art fair.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a guy with a tower of grilled corn.  I walked over to get a better look and watched as he took a piece of the corn off the grill, rolled back the husk and quickly tied it off.  His movements were fluid like a dancer as he dipped the exposed corn in butter, slathered it with mayo, rolled it in cheese, sprinkled it with ground chiles and squirted it with lime.  It was the first time that I had seen anything like this and I was mesmerized.  I couldn’t wait to take that first bite.  I placed an order and watched him repeat his gritty yet graceful street performance.  “Mexican” street corn was a pivotal food experience for me.

     I can still see myself, leaning over the corn, [in the street], taking a big, juicy, sloppy delicious bite.  I was hooked and I have been making variations of Mexican street corn ever since.  Sometimes I grill the soaked corn in the husk and sometimes, I husk the corn and char it on the grill.  It is great both ways. 

     When the corn is fresh from the field, I soak it and grill it in the husk.  The delicate sweet corn only takes a few minutes to cook and I love the slight earthiness that the corn silk and the husk infuse into the kernels.  When the corn isn’t as fresh and is a little starchier, I like to brush it with a little olive oil and place the corn with the exposed kernels directly on the cooking grates to char and blister.   This version of corn-on-the-cob takes longer to cook but the bonus is the intense flavor that the caramelization from the direct heat of the grill gives the corn. 

     This summer, I reached a new level with my Mexican street corn experiments.  And like many great breakthroughs, I created the recipe out of necessity.  I wanted to serve the street corn [on the cob] for a tasting and competition event but I was serving 800 people and realized that there was no way to grill and serve that many people quickly and deliciously! So I decided to make a street corn salad.  That way, I could still serve the flavors of my favorite summer corn but I could make the dish in advance. Because I was going to be serving it cool, I decided to amp up the flavors in my normal recipe with a little cilantro and garlic to add brightness and rich smoky bacon to complement the charred corn.  

     For the event, I mixed all the ingredients together and served it as a side dish to my smoked and grilled beef tenderloin.  It actually worked out even better than if I had made the original corn on the cob—it’s certainly easier to eat! And, as good as my beef was, I know that it was the Grilled Mexican Street Corn Saladthat scored me the top prize that night.

     In this recipe, I grill the corn both in the husk and out of the husk, slice the kernels off the cob and make it into a decadently delicious salad.  You can serve the salad with grilled beef tenderloin as I did, but it’s versatile enough to go with your favorite grilled protein; salmon, beer-can chicken, chicken thighs or backyard ribs.  No matter what main coarse you choose, you’ll bring home the prize the night you serve it!

Grilling Method:  Direct/Medium-High Heat

6          large ears of corn, 3 with husks and silks removed and all 6 soaked in water for 10 minutes

1          tablespoon olive oil for brushing shucked corn

4          tablespoons sweet butter, melted

1/2     overflowing cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise 

1/4     cup fresh cilantro, chopped

            Zest of a lime

            Juice of 1 lime, about 2 tablespoons

2          garlic cloves, grated with a microplane

½        teaspoon chipotle chile powder

Maldon sea salt to taste

½        cup queso anjeo 

½        cup grated Asiago or the 3-cheese blend of Pecorino-Romano, Parmesan and Asiago cheese, plus a little more for garnishing

Freshly ground pepper 

1          lime, cut into small wedges for serving, optional

1          sprig of fresh cilantro for serving

6          slices of Nueske’s applewood smoked bacon, fried crisp and crumbled

 Preheat your grill and set it up for direct heat.

Remove corn from water and pat dry. Brush the husked corn on all sides with the olive oil and transfer to a sheet pan to take to the grill.  Leave the other corn in the husk.  Place the corn on the cooking grate.  Turning occasionally, grill the shucked corn until well-browned and charred in places, about 10 minutes.  The other corn will steam in the husk but the husk will be dried out and charred in places.

Remove from the grill and let rest about 5 minutes or until easy to handle.  When you can handle the corn comfortably, stand it on the flat end, on a cutting board.  Holding the cob steady, take a sharp knife and cut the kernels off the cob. Rotate the cob and cut the next section. Repeat until all the kernels have been cut off, I usually do 5 turns per cob. Discard the cobs and mix the kernels with the melted butter and set aside.

Meanwhile, stir the mayo, cilantro, zest, lime juice, garlic, chile powder, and a pinch of salt together until uniform. Stir in the cheeses and most of the bacon, reserving a little for garnish and set “dressing” aside.  Toss the buttered corn kernels with the dressing and stir to combine well.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Place in a bowl and garnish with a little of the grated cheese, the sprig of cilantro and a sprinkle of the bacon crumbles. Refrigerate and serve cold or at room temperature.

SidesElizabeth Karmel