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Corn Week: Grilled Corn with Spicy Chili Mayo, Coconut, and Fish Sauce

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Welcome to Serious Eats' Corn Week 2013. All week we'll be featuring recipes, techniques, and how-tos about how to get the most out of the sweet summer corn that should soon be flooding our farmers' markets, including a new grilled corn topping idea each day.

A couple weeks back, I mentioned that elotes (A.K.A. Mexican Street Corn) is the best way to serve corn, period. Some of you agreed. Others of you took me to task, pointing out that nothing beats corn fresh from the stalk, steamed with a little butter and salt. Fair point. Some went even further off the esoteric end, recommending aji amarillo, butter, salt, lime, and a shot of mezcal to seal the deal.

Some of you may have gone just a bit too far.

But really, you're all right, of course. Saying that any one of these is better than the other and hoping to prove it in an empirical way is an exercise in futility, for we all know that just like with puppies and spouses, provided that a base level of quality is given, the very best corn is always the one you've got right now.*

*Exceptions apply. Please send a message to regulations@puppiesspousesandcorn.com for a full list of rules and exceptions. Not responsible for carpet stains, failed marriages, and sub-par corn experiences.

This is good news for all of us, as it means that we can eat grilled corn with a different flavored rub or sauce every night of the week, and be eating the best corn ever every single time. Ain't life grand?

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Our first variation draws its inspiration from the grilled corn at Num Pang, one of our favorite sandwich shops in the city, which slings large-proportioned Cambodian sandwiches (essentially identical to Vietnamese bánh mì), along with char-grilled corn served with a chili mayo, lime, and a sprinkle of toasted coconut flakes.

Their version is great, but I prefer a bit more kick with my chili sauce, so I've added garlic and upped the proportion of hot sambal oelek to give it a more intense heat, tempering it with a bit of sugar. When grilled, corn picks up extra sweetness, but it also starts to layer on more savory, browned flavors. To help boost this savoriness, I added a bit of fish sauce, a glutamate-packed flavor enhancer that made my corn taste meatier with just a faint whiff of its pungent aroma. A sprinkle of chopped cliantro adds brightness.

Once its got its coating of aromatic toasted coconut flakes, we've got all the cornerstones flavors of the Thai kitchen: hot chili sauce, acidic lime, and salty and pungent fish sauce. The corn itself provides most of the sweet backdrop to balance out the flavors.

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Grilled Corn with Chili Mayo, Coconut, and Fish Sauce

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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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