There are six major types of maize. They are Dent Corn, Flint Corn, Pod Corn, Popcorn, Flour Corn and Sweetcorn.
In Africa I have seen an orange or deep yellow variety that is usually boiled. It is firmer than Sweetcorn but still nice, just a bit chewy. In Mexico mainly; but now in other parts I have seen the multi colored corn with blue and red and white kernels. Quite pretty. There are blue corns that are very popular in Mexico and are used to make a Massa dough for tortillas as well. And also in Mexico the white corn that is known as Hominy is used to make Pozole. This is a beautiful corn stew (the jury still can’t decide if it is a soup) served with the accompaniments of pork crackling, dried oregano and diced onions and some corn tortillas on the side. Normally cooked in a pork stock made from a pig’s head. The restaurants are called Pozolerias and Pozole is all they serve. I joined a queue one Sunday in Mexico City to finally end up in a two hundred-seat restaurant full of diners. What a great discovery.
There is another type of corn that I came across in Mexico that is called Huitlacoche or Corn Smut. It is a fungus that grows on corn and is used as a filling in tortillas amongst other dishes. It is a delicacy that is formed by a pathogenic fungus called ‘Ustilago maydis’. The only certainty about this interesting form of corn is that there is a lot of uncertainty about the way it got its name. With definitions from “sleeping corn”(as the corn goes to sleep when the fungus starts to grow on it) to “raven’s excrement”, it is no surprise I never got around to trying it. Hopefully I will get around to it on my next visit. Another source derives the meaning as “corn excrescence”
Maize is very popular all over the world. There are also many varieties of maize that are grown and consumed all over the world. One of the most popular ones that we use regularly is Sweetcorn. Bright yellow in colour and sweet to eat.
Sweetcorn is a type of maize that has a very high sugar content. This beautifully sweet and very popular maize has been formed by natural mutation. It is very healthy to eat as well as being delicious.
For starters, sweet corn is loaded with lutein and zeaxanthin, two phytochemicals that promote healthy vision. Besides helping with weight loss, the insoluble fibre in corn feeds good bacteria into your gut, which aids in digestion and helps keep you regular.
Maize was first cultivated around 10,000 years ago in Southern Mexico. When you visit Mexico, it is not only a staple part of the diet and occurs in countless dishes but it is celebrated. More maize is grown in the world than either wheat or rice. As well as human consumption it is also used as an animal feed and to make fuels such as ethanol. It is also used in the production of Bourbon Whiskey.
- SWEETCORN – One of the most popular uses for maize in cuisine is boiled or steamed Sweetcorn. Like most things that are simply cooked, thus is delicious. Just with a sprinkle of salt and brushed with melted butter it really does come into its own. I prefer it drizzled with a good olive oil and sprinkled with black pepper. I remember joining the queue for Sweetcorn in the Zocalo in Mexico City. Sold from a cart that resembled a steam train with the smokestack billowing with steam and a steam whistle to attract customers where he was, I just had to try one. It was served stuck on a stick and slathered with mayonnaise and sprinkled with a hard-grated cheese, chilli flakes and salt. No wonder there was a line up.
Equally as nice is corn grilled over hot coals. Again, something I have seen all over the world from set ups with several dozen cobs on the go to a small little BBQ that will only fit 4 cobs at a time. So simple. So nice.
I love when they are in season and cheap and abundant. I have got to know which farmers have the best corn where I live on the Mornington Peninsula. So, does everyone else, so it means getting in there early before they run out. One farmer’s corn is so nice you can demolish a whole cob raw before you get it home to the cooking pot.
- 2. POLENTA – Mainly found in Northern and Central Italy. It is a dish of boiled cornmeal. It can be served in its porridge like form with stews or set till cold and then sliced into slabs and pan fried or baked. We usually have it with lamb shanks or oxtail. I usually cook it at a ratio of four parts water to one-part polenta. Rain it in slowly while continuously stirring. Add salt. When it thickens to a ball, I add a little more water to the pot to steam the ball of polenta. Leave it to cook on a low heat with a tight lid on. This cooks out the polenta.
Then remove from the heat and add olive oil and/or butter, some grated Parmesan Cheese if you desire then stir it in well before serving. If l has too much I pour it into a tub. The next day you can slice and shallow fry it. It ends up crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.
- 3. SWEETCORN SOUP – A few varieties to choose from. My favourites are the Chicken and Sweet corn or Drop Noodles. Chicken and Sweet corn Soup is made with a chicken stock and is usually blended until it is silky smooth. It is made with the whiter vegetables such as onions, leeks, celery and a hint of garlic so as to not discolour the vibrant yellow of the corn. It is usually finished with shredded chicken and cream. If you use a boiling fowl for the chicken stock, the meat can be used for the soup. Another popular sweet corn soup is the Chinese Chicken and Sweet corn soup. Or more popularly known as Drop Noodle Soup. It is thickened with cornflour and at the end you drizzle in lightly whisked egg white. I add about a teaspoon of cold water to the egg and then lightly whisk it. This helps to loosen up the egg white so you can add it to the soup in a slow stream. Break it up with a whisk or chop sticks as it hits the soup.
- 4. CORN TORTILLAS – Corn Tortillas are made from Corn Masa, which is a corn dough. The masa is made from Masa Harina which is nixtamalized corn. The corn has been soaked in an alkaline agent, which gives the corn a distinct flavour. It is used for all the different type of tortilla manifestations and Tamales, The Tortillas can be turned into a variety of popular dishes such as Quesadillas, Huevos Rancheros, Tostadas or Flautas to mention a few. Tortillas can be hand rolled but are usually done in a purpose made tortilla press. They are then cooked on a hot, dry griddle with no colour.
- 5. CREAMED CORN – With spring onions is a great way of serving sweet corn as a vegetable accompaniment. It can be made with corn, butter, flour, milk, salt and pepper. First of all, boil the corn then shave it off the cob with a knife. Add it to the milk in a pot. And simmer. In the meantime, mix the melted butter and flour together and use it to thicken the corn. Season with the salt and pepper. Remove from heat. It can be studded with bacon bits and poured into a baking dish and topped with cheese before baking in the oven. Nice served with Gammon Steaks and Eggs. Creamed corn is also available in cans.
- 6. TUNA AND SWEETCORN SANDWICHES – A classic sandwich filling. Mix Sweet Corn Kernels with Tuna and bind with mayonnaise. Nice on Brown Bread or with Rye and Caraway bread. This can also be topped with cheese and browned to a crisp under the grill. Also, a very popular topping for Jacket Potatoes. I sometimes use it to fill Pasties. Just switch from using mayonnaise to a thick white sauce as the binding sauce. Delicious.
- 7. CHICKEN AND SWEETCORN PIE – This is a classic combination for a pie. Bound together with a creamy veloute sauce and topped with a puff pastry lid. Some diced celery and onions helps the flavour but can be substituted with other vegetables such as carrots or spring onions.
- 8. SWEETCORN SALSA – with char grilled corn, diced jalapeños, diced red onions, and olive oil. Coriander leaves, lime juice and zest. We usually served this refreshing salsa with grilled fish like snapper or tuna. It acts as both a moistening sauce and a side of tasty vegetables. It can be served with a green salad or crispy fried potatoes. Another food it goes nice with is rice or roasted pumpkin. It is really up to your imagination.
- 9. CORNBREAD – the main ingredients of Cornbread are cornmeal, buttermilk, salt, sugar, butter and baking powder. Some recipes call for eggs, some for bacon dripping. You can substitute another fat such as butter or olive oil if you choose. Polenta can be substituted if you cannot find Corn meal. I like to add finely chopped onions and green chillis to my corn bread.
- Cornbread is popular in Southern American cooking. Many people all over world enjoy cornbread. Cornbread can be baked, fried, or steamed. Steamed cornbread is mushy and chewier. Cornbread is usually served with Roast Chicken or pork. At BBQ’s and even with ice cream or butter and jam
- 10. Corn chips – Corn chips are a very popular food made from corn. Also known as tortilla chips, they are made from deep fried corn tortilla discs that have been cut into triangles. Crispy and light, they are ready for dipping into salsa, guacamole and/or sour cream. Nachos can also be layered and baked with cheese on top. I served loads of these at Glastonbury Festival each year with salsa, sour cream, guacamole, refried beans and cheese. They were our most popular dish. Perfect festival food.