Corn Crème Brûlée

Sometimes you taste something and it defines the entire experience. That was the case with this unique creamed corn dish that I tasted at the restaurant Steak 48 in Houston. Although I sat down and had a delicious ribeye, the corn stole the evening.

Creamed corn is one of those foods that originated with the Native Americans but quickly became a staple in the south along with grits. It historically didn’t contain any cream at all but was rather just broken corn kernels along with the pulp that was briefly stewed and served. Because it is made with farm-picked corn on the cob (unlike grits) it retains a sugar sweet flavor and can be quite intense. The modern interpretation usually comes from a can and tastes anything but fresh.

I experimented with several versions before I settled on this recipe which does contain cream, can be made with frozen corn, and is baked in cast iron so it is suited for a wood-fired oven.

6 ears of sweet corn (or 4 cups of thawed frozen corn)

3/4 cup (1 1/2 stick) unsalted butter

2 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3 tbs granulated sugar

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 to 1/2 cup turbinado sugar

Butter 6 shallow double ramekins or cast iron dishes.

Melt 1/4 cup of butter and briefly cook the corn for about 5 minutes and then set aside.

Melt the remaining butter in a skillet whisking in the flour to make a roux and cook for about two minutes but do not let the mixture brown. Whisk in the cream and cook until bubbly and slightly thickened. Now whisk in the sugar, salt, pepper, and corn and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more. Pour equal portions into the prepared ramekins. If the corn is to be served immediately, it can be caramelized at this point. If not, it can be held at room temperature for an hour before service but rewarm the ramekins in the oven before proceeding.

Sprinkle the turbinado sugar equally over the top of the ramekins and caramelize with a torch until the sugar is brown and bubbly. You can attempt this under the broiler in the oven, but invest in a torch (see note).

Note about torches: Although you can purchase the kitchen utensil version to make crème brûlée at home, these torches only heat small focused areas of sugar making it hard to quickly create uniform desserts or this dish. And, they are really only useful for one task. Go to your local hardware store and buy a propane torch with and instant-on button and you can caramelize ramekins much faster and better. Plus, you can use it to brown a roast or to start your BBQ!

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Dan McCoy