Whether it’s the sweetness, the flavor, the consistency or the color, corn lends itself to many applications beyond the traditional side dish.
“I think corn is a pretty universal ingredient and has an ability to shine by itself with its natural sweetness,” says Edward Glebus, general manager/executive chef for Culinart at Qualcomm in San Diego. “When incorporated with other ingredients it lends a nice color, crunch and flavor that only corn can give.”
Regionality: According to the USDA, “the United States is, by far, the largest producer of corn in the world. Corn is grown on more than 400,000 farms.” The ubiquity of corn allows chefs to experiment with the ingredient’s applications in different regions of the country.
At the 29,000-student University of Connecticut, in Storrs, dining services uses corn in several Southwest-inspired recipes.
“We do jalapeño cornbread,” Robert Landolphi, manager of culinary development, says. “We make chipotle turkey cutlets with corn salsa, roasted corn and quinoa salad and grilled chicken with corn relish.”
Landolphi says another popular side dish is Mexican chipotle corn and potatoes.
“We steam red quartered potatoes then add corn, green chilies, butter, salt and red peppers,” Landolphi says. “The whole thing gets baked in the oven. It’s a spicy and tasty alternative for a side dish.”
Southwest-inspired corn dishes also are a hit with K-12 students.
“We do Mexicali corn as a side vegetable, usually about once per month,” says Cynthia Johnson, child nutrition supervisor for Cabarrus County (N.C.) Schools. “Corn is very popular with the students. It’s colorful and sweet and tasty and it’s the No. 1 vegetable that we sell here. We try to menu it as often as possible in our four-week cycle. They prefer loose corn as opposed to on the cob. But, I have to say, the kids love anything with corn in it.”
At St. Petersburg Hospital in Florida, Mary Tyson, food and nutrition services director, says her operation uses corn mainly as a vegetable and as a soup ingredient.
“We also use cornmeal in the batter for frying fish,” Tyson says. “Every day on the menu we offer cornmeal grits. That’s just automatic for around these parts. One of our most popular items is fried chicken with macaroni and cheese, collard greens or turnip greens and corn muffins. We also buy prepared corn nuggets, which are a little creamy and sweet. They get fried, like okra poppers, with a sauce on the side to dip.”
At 40,000-student Indiana Univer-sity in Bloomington, Rachel Noirot, dietitian, R.D., says her department uses corn regularly in several applications.
“We have a cheese corn casserole for vegetarians that features spaghetti noodles, diced green pepper, onion, olives and shredded cheddar cheese,” Noirot says. “We do a potato corn scallop, which includes hash brown potatoes, creamed corn, onion, green peppers, celery, pimentos, chili powder and parsley.”
Roger Knysh, director of nutrition and foodservices at Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington, Mass., says his department tends to use corn more as a recipe ingredient rather than as a side dish.
“We make burritos with corn, chicken tortilla soup and shepherd’s pie,” Knysh says. “[One side we do make] is a cowboy salsa with black beans, peppers, cherry tomatoes, red onions, cilantro and spices. We like to call it Texas caviar, and we use it a lot for side dishes for catered events,” he says. “This salsa is a great accompaniment to fresh grilled fish.”
The pairing of corn and fish is especially delicious for Spencer Tan, executive chef at 2,500-student Brigham Young University in, Laie, Hawaii, because of his access to fresh fish.
“I make striped marlin tartare with corn,” says Tan. “We call it Mormon poke [a Hawaiian raw fish salad]. Besides that, I use corn for making corn hush puppies and seafood sweet corn soup.”
Corn with a twist: Adding ethnic twists to corn dishes has become more common in non-commercial operations, such as a corn fritter dish that Culinart at Qualcomm creates.
“We make chicken and corn fritters, which are battered and fried,” Glebus says. “We add fish sauce, coriander, ginger and garlic. We top it with harissa aïoli, which is a Moroccan hot sauce with a garlic and tomato base.”
Glebus also makes chilled corn soup that, he says, is great in the summer.
“We always try to use fresh corn, which we cut from the cob and cook with vegetable stock,” he says. “We purée that with a little cream and finish it with a Champagne vinaigrette. We like to serve it in glasses, rimmed with crushed wasabi. Then we top that with a little tomato oil.”
Executive Chef Manfred Werner at 10,000-student Villanova University, in Villanova, Pa., created a corn dish with an Italian flair.
“We serve gnocchi à la romaine, made with cornmeal, with roasted fennel gratine and a fresh tomato sauce,” Edler says. “Extra Parmesan cheese really makes the dish.”
At 28,000-student University of Kansas, in Lawrence, Janna Traver, executive chef/assistant director of KU Dining, says they also try to use corn beyond side dishes.
“We make Southwest corn crepes, which are French-style crepes filled with sweet corn, chevre cheese and nopales, finished with chipotle cream sauce and cilantro sour cream,” Traver explains. “The corn crepes are generally served as a vegetarian entrée but are versatile enough to utilize as a side dish. We also make a corn pudding with jalapeño chutney, creamy country corn with bacon, black bean and corn relish and grilled corn with jalapeño lime butter.”