I grew up in a boiled-corn culture (at least it was hypersweet corn from Maryland's Eastern Shore). So my first taste of grilled corn, in Trinidad and Tobago, came as a revelation. Grilling corn caramelizes its natural sugars--especially when you expose the kernels directly to the fire by grilling with the husk off.
Taking it one step further, smoking corn gives this sweet vegetable a flavor that is familiar but otherworldly. The chile peppers in the recipe below (adapted from the forthcoming cookbook Project Smoke) provide a counterpoint to the sweetness. Think of this as a creamed corn casserole on steroids--an exciting side dish for Thanksgiving or any other meal.
Don't own a grill or smoker? No problem. You can smoke the corn and onions using a handheld smoker or a stovetop smoker.
Smoked Creamed Corn
Yield: Serves 4 as a side dish
Method: Stovetop smoking
Equipment: Stovetop smoker; sawdust or small wood chips
4 ears of corn, shucked
1 small onion, peeled and quartered (leave the root end attached)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons butter
1 poblano pepper, stemmed, seeded, and diced
1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded, and diced
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (optional)
1 1/2 cups half and half, light cream, or, gasp, heavy cream
2 to 3 tablespoons brown sugar or granulated sugar (or to taste)
6 ounces grated cheddar or pepper Jack cheese (1 1/2 cups; optional)
Freshly grated nutmeg
Step 1: Set up the stovetop smoker according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Step 2: Lightly brush the corn and onion pieces with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Smoke the corn and onions on the stovetop smoker until darkly browned on all sides, 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer the corn and onions to a platter and let cool. The recipe can be prepared up to 48 hours ahead to this stage.
Step 3: Cut the corn kernels off the cobs. The easiest way to do this is to lay the cobs flat on the cutting board and cut off the kernels with broad strokes of a chef's knife. Scrape the cobs with the back of the knife to capture the rest of the corn's flavorful juices. You should have about 3 cups. Scrape any burnt skin off the onions, trim off the root ends, and finely chop. Set the corn and onions aside.
Step 4: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the poblano and jalapeño peppers and sauté until softened. Sprinkle the flour over the peppers and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Whisk in the half and half and sugar. Bring to a boil. Stir in the corn and onions. Reduce the heat, and simmer until the mixture is thick and richly flavored, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cheese. Correct the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste: the creamed corn should be highly seasoned. Transfer the creamed corn to a serving bowl and garnish with a whisper of grated nutmeg.
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Steven Raichlen is the author of the Barbecue! Bible cookbook series and the host of Project Smoke on public television. His web site is BarbecueBible.com.