Even if it isn’t quite corn on the cob season in the Northeast, here’s some great fodder for your upcoming barbecues. Something to add to your global grilled corn cooking expertise (which might include the popular, lime and chile-spiked Mexican grilled corn), this recipe is god-awfully delicious. And now I’m providing you with documented evidence of its simplicity.
Yes, that box at the top of this post is the brainchild of my enthusiasm to share this recipe with you and (mostly) my friend Matt Bagdanoff’s camera and editing skills. See, I caught wind of a new Bobby Flay TV series on the Food Network about grilling, and that they were looking for three-minute audition tapes from ordinary grilling enthusiasts. After a beautiful, sunny, 70-degree Saturday passed, we got up onto Matt’s roof on Sunday to shoot ‘n grill… only it wasn’t quite so sunny anymore. In fact, it was pretty darn cold, gloomy and windy as all blustery hell.
Despite this, we had lots of fun making this video — and the tasty corn. Matt worked so hard on shooting and editing this bit that I thought it only right that more people got to see it before it gets watched by some Food Network intern and ends up in the reject pile. So, we are proudly presenting the editor’s second cut… where stumbling over words and dorky gaps in speech fly. (“Yay for grilling”?)
Though we couldn’t find any skewers to prop the ears of corn on, the authentic street food in Taiwan would have been served on one. I spent my last semester of college in Taipei on an abroad/scholarship program and ate lots of this corn and other street food specialties while there. But I didn’t learn to cook it during my travels, nor did I consult any chefs on how the glaze was made. I asked my mom what she thought was in it, and she could only guess soy sauce, sugar and maybe a little chili powder (if I haven’t mentioned this too profoundly before, my mom grew up in Taiwan). I’m fairly sure that this alone would have made a decent sauce to spread on the corn pre-grilling, but that was too facile. I looked around online and found snapshots of the Taiwanese specialty but no recipes. Then I asked my (Taiwanese) friend for his thoughts. He quickly came across a few recipes on Chinese-written websites for the snack, and in the process, grew incredibly homesick from photos of all the various deliciously grilled, charred, crusty and caramelized skewers of things and other popular street food from Taipei. Anyway, some of the recipes for the corn glaze included sa-cha sauce, while some didn’t. Most included lard, which I prudently left out. Since sa-cha sauce is simply a mixture of chilies, shallots, garlic, and a little crushed dried shrimp and brill fish, I took a fresh shallot and garlic clove and mashed them up. I added this to two tablespoons of soy sauce with two teaspoons of dissolved sugar and whipped it up. I added a pinch of hot chili powder (cayenne), and finally, the mixture was emulsified into a dark, thick slurry with two tablespoons of vegetable oil.
I took this recipe down a notch in flavor by not using the extra pungent fishy ingredients in the sa-cha sauce because the actual corn in Taiwan is quite different from ours. It’s bigger, starchier, blander and tougher, while the sweet corn in the States is just that. Deliciously sweet on its own. So this is the Americas, and we may own corn on the cob, grilled simply and delicious on its own. But I’ll be darned if you don’t fall head over heels in love with this modified Taiwanese-style grilled preparation.
Taiwanese Street Food-Style Grilled Corn
(makes 4 ears)
4 ears corn, shucked
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 medium shallot
1 large garlic clove
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Crush the garlic clove and shallot using a chef’s knife against a board, grinding back and forth until it becomes a pulp (alternately, you can put these in a food processor and pulse). In a mixing bowl, combine the soy sauce with the sugar with a whisk until dissolved. Add to the shallot and garlic mixture along with the chile powder. Add the vegetable oil while whisking until emulsified.
Spread sauce mixture onto corn with a brush and place ears onto a hot grill. Grill about 2-3 minutes per side until slightly charred all around. Serve or grill ears of corn on a stick if desired.
(for 4 side servings)
4 ears of corn: $2.99
2 tablespoons soy sauce: $0.20
2 teaspoons sugar: $0.10
1 shallot: $0.20
1 garlic clove: $0.03
2 tablespoons vegetable oil: $0.15
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper: $0.05
Three brownie points: As far as veggie sides go, this one’s not a pure soul. It’s got a little fat from the oil, some sugar, and sodium from the soy sauce, so there’s your three cruxes. Sweet corn alone gives you some Vitamin C and Vitamin A, not a lot, but it’s not dismissable either. Hey, at least I didn’t use the lard.
Three maple leaves: As mentioned, this recipe was made in anticipation of the summer barbecuing season while fresh sweet corn is not locally available. That said, the garlic and shallot came from Farmers’ Markets in the area, and the minimal, unavoidably non-local seasonings are staples that have been in my cupboards for maybe a year or so. All told, not so green, at least not yet.