Like the 49ers staring at a 4th-and-20, last Friday’s post ended with a whimper, a don’t think/just-punt sort of moment, as my employer’s requirement for some actual work and the post’s rapidly escalating word count dictated a hasty retreat from a recipe that I had the poor form to advertise and picture, but not to supply. So, think of today as a reprieve from the instant-replay booth – not exactly lucky, but fortuitous nevertheless.
The provenance of this seriously good and kid-approved corn sauce? First, as is my wont, an inventory of leftovers: Some trim off a previously fileted side of wild salmon, too scrappy to cook on their own; a few Wyeth Acres eggs, lonely in the far corner of last week’s carton; some stale bread; lots of gorgeous garlic from Bernier Farms, both Rocambole and Rose du Lautrec (the former richly spiced, the latter delicate and aromatic without too much heat); our Serrano chili bush, after last week’s heat spell alight like a Christmas tree in the middle of our little thicket of garden, its branches suddenly heavy with bright red fruit; and – critically – a bottle of Bob Pellegrini’s Olivet Lane Pinot Noir, inexplicably undrunk from my previous foray down the Costco wine aisle. Throw the lot if together, dredged in Panko and shallow-fried, and you have Crispy Salmon Cakes (a seasoned mixture of rough chopped salmon, bread soaked in milk, a beaten egg, and the chilis finely minced). Add the requisite starch (my kitchen is the Antarctica to Dr. Atkins’ Magnetic North), maybe another vegetable that the kids won’t touch, and wash it all down with Bob’s youthfully red Pinot, laced with cherries and raspberries, a perfect counterpoint to the mildly spicy, richly flavored salmon. (If you ever need to disprove a misconception about red wine and fish, grill some Copper River salmon and serve it with a soft, fruity RRV Pinot. QED.)
Plans were laid for a quick stop by the Tuesday market: Some freshly-dug potatoes, maybe some of that garlic roasted in the oven, chopped chives… it all seemed obvious, kid-friendly, easy, and cheap. Except, No Potatoes, and Enter Corn: I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know the name of the farm, but somebody had these big, beautiful, bright-green ears of corn from the far end of Dry Creek, picked less than two hours earlier. Salmon… chiles… corn. No brainer, really, and I’d get to serve a starch and a vegetable. The more I thought about, the more I realized that corn was the better option, by half. If only the kids would eat it.
Kid-Approved Corn Salsa (adapted from The Professional Chef by the CIA)
- Cut off the silk, wet 4 ears of fresh corn, and roast them in a 350F oven for 15-20 minutes. Husk the corn (be sure to remove all the silk), cut off the kernels, and reserve the kernels, and return the cobs to the oven and broil them, turning once, until well-roasted and browned (but not burnt!).
- While the corn is cooking, dice an onion and sweat it in a saucepan with some olive oil until lightly browned. Deglaze with a cup of dry wine to match the final dish (e.g., Pinot for this one, but you could use a lighter white or a heavier red, Zin say, depending on what you’re serving it with) and cook until nearly dry.Meanwhile, mince a few Serrano chiles (2-4, depending on heat and size), and 1-2 cloves of garlic – all told, about a tablespoon of chili and a teaspoon of garlic.
- Add two cups of stock (this will work fine in vegetarian form, and better water than a bullion cube; but chicken stock will be more flavorful, and a white beef or veal stock best of all, with all the added body), along with a bay leaf, a sprig of fresh thyme, and a few whole peppercorns, and the roasted cobs, cut in half. Simmer gently until reduced by at least half, strain it out, and adjust the seasoning.
- Wipe out the pan, melt a knob of butter, and add the chilis, garlic, and the corn kernels, a teaspoon or so of cumin, and sautee gently over medium-low heat until they just start to soften.
- Add the sauce back and simmer until the corn is cooked through, but just, and still retains some tooth. Adjust the seasoning and serve at once. (The longer you have to hold this sauce, the more conservative you want to be about the corn, or it will overcook. However, you could do it all ahead of time, secept for this step, and add the sauce to the vegetables at the very end.)
- While the sauce is simmering, remove the corn from the oven, husk it (take care to get rid of all the silk), and cut off and reserve the kernels. Return the cobs to the oven and turn the heat up to a broil. Watch the cobs, turning them once – you want them roasted and browned, but never burnt.
My 8yo daughter went nuts for this stuff: The Serranos and garlic become very mild, the corn nicely sweet, the cumin a background note. It paired perfectly with the crispy salmon cakes, but it was so good, you could make a large quantity and serve it on its own; or as a sauce to just about anything that pairs well with corn.