Grilled Corn on the Cob with Street Vendor Garnishes
Everyone seems to know about this Mexican street-style corn these days: smoky grilled corn on the cob slathered in mayonnaise (or crema) and showered with one of Mexico’s bright-tasting garnishing cheeses, spicy powdered chile and squeezed lime. If you eat it in Mexico, though, you’ll be taken aback, since it’s not made with sweet corn, but field corn picked at the immature stage (what’s called the “milk stage”). Young field corn is chewier (and noticeably less sweet) than our standard, and that’s after it’s been simmered to heighten the tenderness. My guess is that you’ll be using ears of sweet corn, so I’ve given directions for using them: soak the unhusked corn in water, do an initial grilling in the husks (our corn is so tender that this doesn’t take long), then pull back the husks, brush them with butter (that’s not common in Mexico, but I like it) and turn over the flames until richly browned and ready for the toppings.
Mayonnaise is common everywhere these days, but when I was first living in Mexico, a lot of the street vendors used thick Mexican crema. I still like it, though the effect is less tangy. Try it someday—you might like it, too.
Start soaking and building the fire about an hour before serving. There is little else to do in advance. If you plan to have your fire going for a long time, you may complete the in-husk steaming well ahead of the final grilling.
About 1cupmayonnaise or slightly less Mexican crema, crème fraiche or sour cream
1/3cupcrumbled Mexican queso añejo or fresco or other garnishing cheese like Parmesan or feta
About 1tablespoonshot powdered chile (see note below) mixed with a teaspoon of finely ground salt
2limes,cut into wedges
A note about the powdered chile: Powdered chile de árbol is the cayenne of Mexico and it’s really spicy. My favorite choice, though, is to mix árbol with powdered guajillo or New Mexico chile—the result is less hot, so I can put more on.
About an hour before serving, place the ears of corn in a deep bowl or pan, cover with cold water and weight with a plate if necessary to keep them submerged. Heat a gas grill to medium-high or light your charcoal fire and let it burn until the charcoal is covered with gray ash and still quite hot.
Lay the corn on the grill and roast for about 10 minutes, turning frequently, until the outer leaves are blackened a little. Remove, let cool several minutes, then pull back the husks and silk (I typically leave the pulled-back husks attached, to use as a handle). About 10 minutes before serving, brush the corn with melted butter, return to the grill and turn frequently until nicely browned. Serve right away, passing the mayonnaise, cheese, powdered chile and lime for your guests to slather and shower on to their own liking.