Corn, and other foods native to the Americas
I remember when I first learned that chile peppers, tomatoes and chocolate were native to the Americas. I was shocked that ingredients I so closely associated with European and Asian cuisines only reached those places in the centuries after Columbus and others reached our shores.
It was inconceivable to imagine Italian food without tomatoes, or Chinese, Indian or Thai food without chiles. What would the pastry arts be like in France, Switzerland or Germany without chocolate? But none of those cultures had those ingredients before the 15th century at the earliest, and even then some were slow to catch on.
And then there’s corn. With all due respect to Chef John Folse, a recipe attributed to him makes the statement that “Corn was growing wild in Louisiana when the Acadians arrived in 1755. The people quickly married the flavor of Louisiana seafood to the sweet corn creating delicious dishes such as this bisque.” Corn was not “growing wild” in Louisiana when the Acadians came here. Corn had been cultivated in the Americas for 10,000 years or so, and if the Cajuns found “wild” corn, it wouldn’t have borne any resemblance to the crop we know today.
Corn is grown all over the world now, though mostly for animal feed or to make ethanol. Where people do appreciate it as an edible crop, it’s usually prepared as a porridge; it’s known as “polenta” in Italy, “mamaliga” in Romania, Puliszka in Hungary and Ugali in Kenya. My grandmother called it “mush,” and we usually ate it for breakfast with butter, milk and sugar.
This is the time when we start seeing heads of corn showing up in grocery stores for around fifty cents. In a month or so, the price will drop again and we’ll be able to pick up five heads for a dollar.
I do not process corn using an alkaline solution. I prefer to take a very large knife and cut the kernels off the cob into a bowl, then cook them in butter or some other fat with such ingredients as suit my fancy, for I am a fancy man.
Corn is naturally sweet and it pairs well with chile peppers in just about any application. It also works well with seafood, particularly crabmeat. One of the best ways to enjoy that particular combination is corn and crabmeat soup/bisque. That’s a dish one used to see on menus all over town, but it’s not as common as it used to be. My favorite rendition is probably at Clancy’s, www.clancysneworleans.com, but I am willing to entertain your suggestions as to other options.
Since my last blog, we’ve lost a giant of the food world. Mrs. Leah Chase was very kind to me on the occasions I met her, and from what I understand that was her way with everyone. I won’t pretend that I knew her well, but I was fortunate enough to spend some time in conversation with her over the years and she was damn near as perfect a human as they come. I do not believe I ever heard anyone say an unkind word about her, and that’s remarkable for someone who was in the public eye for as long as Mrs. Chase. She was gracious, hard-working and above all else generous in spirit. We will not see her like again, I fear.