Thursday, August 1, 2013

charred corn crepes

charred corn crepe stack, mexican street corn style

For the last three summers, I have had “fresh corn crepes” on my cooking wish list. I was mesmerized by the idea of mixing roughly chopped kernels of the ridiculously sweet bi-color corn we get around here with eggs, milk, some melted butter and salt and cooking them thin and lacy in a pan. What I didn’t have was a clue of what I’d do with them, you know, besides just eating them. Whenever I thought about them, I fell down a culinary philosophical rabbit hole — Why not just put corn on a plain crepe? Does a recipe require a reason, a bigger purpose? Did this need to be done? Was it going to raise the bar somehow on crepes or was it just cool that you could do it? I have found myself at a handful of restaurants lately that have me questioning all the things I love to do in the kitchen (namely, mixing disparate things to make a new thing I think would be quite delicious) because I felt that they were innovating for the sake of innovating, and not actually making a grander version of anything while they were at it. Oh, you cannot imagine how dull the inside of my head has become. The worst outcome of this was that I never made the crepes, despite still wanting to very much.

snap, crackle, charring the corncharred corn smells amazing

Fortunately, after spending the first half of this week chasing a philosophically fascinating (“Can this really work?”) but utter flop (“No, it cannot.”) of a recipe, I was so tired of cooking and thinking about cooking I told my husband my earrings hurt. Like, I was tired to my earlobes. But I had corn. And I had milk and eggs and flour. And so I gave them a spin and they were every bit as delicious as I’d always imagined they’d be, especially the batch where I first charred the corn over a gas flame as a makeshift grill, like we once did here.

de-cobbing the charred corn

But those philosophical issues came back to pester me. Ugh, where should we go with this? And so, I came up with a few ideas, for those of you who, like me, cannot accept that these alone are perfect, and needn’t be pestered into becoming something else:

  • High Summer Corn Crepes: Make a light tomato salad with slivered scallions or chives. Dress with mayo (if nobody is looking) or a little oil and vinegar. Eat with corn crepes.
  • Buttermilk-Chive Corn Crepes: Use buttermilk instead of regular milk, add 1/4 cup minced chives to the batter. Serve with baby spinach and goat cheese salad.
  • Taco-Style Corn Crepes: With tomatillo salsa and shredded chicken or with Mama Canales-Garcia’s Avocado-Shrimp Salsa. Choose only light fixings, as crepes are far more delicate than soft tacos.
  • Breakfast Sweet Corn Crepes: Add 1 tablespoon sugar to the batter, serve with salted butter, maple syrup and powdered sugar. Please, promise you’ll invite me over.
  • Mexican Street Vendor Corn-Style: Grilled corn slathered with butter and mayo, crumbly salty cheese, chili powder, lime and … forget it, it was on.

and then we blend the batter
flipped corn crepe
crepes, mayo, cheese to crumble, lime

One of the reasons I love crepes so much although the first one always ends up in the trash (accept it and move on, I tell myself), by the third one, you will hopefully find something of a rhythm to them and from here, it’s so easy, especially with a recipe like this, which isn’t overly delicate. Because they’re nice enough not to stick to each other, they can be stacked for storage. They keep well; you could wrap this stack in plastic in the fridge and peel off what you need the next day. Or, you can make the batter and keep it around for two or so days, pouring some off for this meal or that. Finally when it comes time to serve them, you can keep them plain with the fixings on the side, DIY-style, or you can stack them with their fillings and make a “cake” that you serve in wedges. Needless to say, I’m on Team Cake. Always.

mexican corn crepes
fresh corn crepe stack

One year ago: Charred Pepper Steak Sauce
Two years ago: Hazelnut Plum Crumb Tart
Three years ago: Nectarine Brown Butter Buckle
Four years ago: Sour Cherry Slab Pie
Five years ago: Herbed Summer Squash and Potato Torte (We make this twice a summer. I’ve also been promising you new photos with updated proportions for a year. Please nag me until I get this done?)
Six years ago: Zucchini Bread

Charred Corn Crepes

Yield: 9 to 10 9-inch crepes (more if your pan is smaller). For a pretty ta-da of a stack, you’ll want to double this. My stack photographed above used 1 1/2 batches of this because I had to save a half-batch for a certain 3 year-old who is broken hates cheese.

1 large fresh corn cob
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup flour
1 cup milk, any fat level will do
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon table salt
Butter or oil for pan

To char corn: Shuck your corn but leave the “stem” on if you can; it makes a great handle. Remove small children from the area. Over a hot grill or an open gas-stove flame, char the corn until well-blackened but not completely burnt. It tends to snap, crackle and yes, pop a little making terrifying noises (hence, the removal of small people) but will smell amazing (like popcorn and fireplaces and summer camp). Remove cob from heat, and when cool enough to handle, shave off kernels using a large knife. You should have about 1 cup kernels. Transfer to a bowl and pour melted butter over it; let cool to lukewarm.

Make crepe batter: Place corn-butter mixture in a blender with flour, milk, eggs and salt. Blend until mostly smooth (a few bits and coarse piece of corn are awesome but too many will make the batter hard to pour and spread in the pan). Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or two days; this resting time really, really makes it easier to make crepes that don’t fall apart.

Cook crepes: Heat an 8- to 9-inch skillet (nonstick makes things even easier here) over medium heat. Coat very lightly with butter or oil. Pour 3 (for an 8-inch skillet) to 4 tablespoons (for a larger size) batter into the center of the skillet and roll it around so that it evenly coats the bottom. Cook until edges appear lightly brown, then flip the crepe* and cook it on the reverse side for another 30 seconds.

Slide crepe onto a paper towel-coated plate or counter. Repeat with remaining crepe batter, re-buttering pan as needed. Cooling crepes can overlap on the towels. Cooled crepes can be stacked and will not stick to each other.

Mexican Street Corn Crepe Stack: I spread about 1 teaspoon mayonnaise (which is very scant and you can definitely use more; use yogurt or sour cream if you dislike mayo) between each crepe, then sprinkled about 2 teaspoons crumbled cotija cheese (but you can use ricotta salata, feta or another crumbly salty cheese if you cannot find it), a couple shakes of chili powder and a small amount of chopped cilantro (but you can use flat-leaf parsley if you’re not into cilantro). The toppings add up quickly as you stack the crepes, so don’t be afraid to go easy on them; you’ll still get a full amount of topping with each bite. Serve with lime wedges, squeezing some lime juice over each wedge.

* Flipping crepes is scary! Here are some tips: 1. Crepes fall apart quite easily when they’re pale and undercooked. The ones with slightly more brown spots are easier to flip, for the same reason that toast is firmer than fresh bread. As you get more confident, you can aim for paler crepes. 2. I use a weird, need-to-show-with-a-video-one-day two spatula flipping technique, usually use one offset frosting spatula (I have this one) and one flexible fish spatula (I have this one and is one of my most favorite kitchen tools, ever, the only thing I use for 99% lifting/turning kitchen tasks). I use the smaller one to get underneath the crepe enough that I can lift it enough that I can slide the larger one far underneath it, making flipping it a cinch. I promise. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be a crepe-making junkie like me.


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