Our pal Paul is missing out on the local corn season. I feel bad about that because he’s a real fan and in summers past has embraced the harvest to ensure his refrigerator and freezer are well-supplied for daily and down-the-road corn hits. So while he’s captaining a research vessel up in the deep blue waters of Alaska, I’ve been secretly stocking up for him; tumbling tender, blanched kernels into freezer bags that will be handed over as a surprise birthday present after his return in late September.
It got me thinking: A lot of cooks don’t really know the ins and outs of freezing corn. There’s a misapprehension that you can toss those freshly-picked and shucked ears straight into the freezer and they’ll come out just fine on the other end. But both Paul and I have conducted independent quality evaluations over the past few summers, and we’ve both landed in the same blanch-and-cut camp. Meaning, flavor and texture are far too negatively affected if you don’t expose those fresh kernels to a minute or two of heat to stop the enzymatic action, and cut the blanched kernels from the cobs before freezing.
Besides, cut kernels are far more compact to store. And the advantages? A more intense combination of flavors, a wider range of seasoning options, and no immediate need for dental floss. And like I said, you really don’t have a choice if flavor and texture matter because freezing corn on the cob is not as desirable.
Then, throughout the months and months beyond local corn season, it’s a delight to reach into your frosty cache of corn and scoop out enough for the evening’s salad, soup or saute.
And while I’m on the subject of cutting corn away from the cob, I might as well pass along my true bias on the subject. I like to leave the corn in chunky pieces, the way it falls away from the cob, instead of breaking those chunks into individual kernels. I even have a name for them: corn rafts. Eating a corn raft provides a greater hit of corn flavor and texture, which, as any corn head will tell you, is what eating corn is all about.
MAKING CORN RAFTS: To make these corn rafts, hold a cob of cooked-and-cooled corn vertically on a cutting board (stalk-side down) and cut down between the kernels and the cob, as close as possible to the cob, in a precise and steady motion. The corn will fall away in chunks of connected kernels. Rotate and repeat the cutting. When you’ve removed the corn rafts from a cob, use a spatula to gently lift the chunks of corn from the cutting board and place them on a plate until ready to use. If some of the rafts seem too long, just break them into shorter lengths. The idea is to have pieces that are relatively bite-sized.
You can prepare the corn up to 24 hours ahead, then simply arrange the rafts on a plate, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for fresh eating. For freezing, read on...
1. BLANCHING CORN FOR FREEZING: Shuck the fresh ears of corn. Have a very large pot or bowl of ice water standing by to cool the blanched corn quickly.
Bring another large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add a few ears at a time (just enough so that the water will come back to a boil in just a minute or two) and boil for just 2 to 3 minutes (start timing once the water is just about ready to return to a boil). Using tongs, remove the ears to the ice water so they will cool down quickly. Repeat with remaining ears of corn.
2. REMOVE BLANCHED AND COOLED KERNELS FROM CORN COB (AS DESCRIBED ABOVE “MAKING CORN RAFTS”)
3. TO FREEZE: If you have the freezer space to do so, spread the kernels out on parchment-lined baking sheets (to prevent the damp kernels from freezing to the metal) and freeze in a shallow layer to preserve the character of the kernels. Once frozen, gently tumble the corn into appropriate-sized freezer bags and return to the freezer.
If you don’t have the space in your freezer to handle the kernels that way, then simple place the freshly cut kernels in appropriate-sized freezer bags, keeping the contents as shallow as possible so the pieces won’t freeze in too large of a block. The larger the chunk of frozen corn kernels, the more difficult to remove single batches of frozen kernels as desired in the future.
4. USING FROZEN CORN KERNELS: Use your frozen kernels in any recipe calling for fresh corn kernels. Because they are blanched, they will need very little additional cooking, so adjust the recipe accordingly to avoid over-cooking.
I’m including one of my most favorite ways to cook corn off the cob. Plus my classic flavored butter, which I recommend you prepare a large batch of now and freeze in handy dollops to pull out along with some of the frozen corn kernels. Dee-lish!