Why It Works
- The savory funk of doenjang and sharp bite of hot mustard balance the sweetness of corn and richness of melted mozzarella.
- This dish can be made with any kind of sweet corn: fresh off the cob when it’s in season, canned, or frozen.
Corn cheese is a near perfect example of anju, the genre of Korean food that's meant to be served along with alcohol. It's a fondue-like concoction of canned corn topped with bubbly, molten cheese, a sweet-savory-cheesy combination that should be familiar to anyone who's had buldak or cheesy tteokbokki before.
Since it's a relatively recent addition to the Korean diet, as the two main ingredients were introduced as rations distributed by American forced during and after the Korean War, there really aren't really any rules for how to prepare it, but most versions of this hot side dish are made with canned corn, and they tend to be quite sweet. For my recipe for corn cheese, I wanted to make it more savory, balancing the sweetness of the fresh, in-season sweet corn with butter, salt, some savory funk from doenjang, and a little bit of heat from Chinese mustard, which serves to emphasize the corn and cheese flavors. And while I love fresh summer corn, I wanted to stay true to the origins of the dish, so I developed the recipe so it would work with frozen corn and drained, unsalted canned corn as well; all you have to to do is add 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar to the frozen or canned corn while sautéing it to mimic fresh corn's sweetness.
Putting the dish together is pretty simple: I start off by cooking the doenjang, butter, and some finely chopped onion together until the onion is tender and the doenjang is caramelized, after which I fold in the fresh corn kernels, heating them just until they're tender. From there, it's just a matter of topping the corn with cheese and sliding it under the broiler and then drizzling hot mustard over the bubbly, golden brown top.
If there is a rule for corn cheese, it's that it has to be served hot—you want the cheese to be gooey and stretchable—so it's best to prepare everything up to the broiling step ahead of time. That way, when everyone has a cold drink in their hand and the other dishes hit the table—a hot plate of galbi or dwaeji bulgogi, for example—this simple showstopper of a summer side dish can arrive, piping hot beneath its burnished and bubbly top.
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) water
- 2 teaspoons (5g) Chinese mustard powder
- 6 tablespoons (3 ounces; 85g) unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons (30g) doenjang
- 1 large yellow onion (about 10 ounces; 285g), finely chopped
- 6 ears fresh corn, shucked, kernels removed (about 6 cups; 800g corn kernels) (see note)
- 1/2 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt use half as much by volume
- 6 ounces (170g) low-moisture mozzarella, shredded
- 2 scallions (30g), thinly sliced
- Coarse sea salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel (optional)
Adjust oven rack to 6 inches below broiler element and preheat broiler on high. In a small bowl, stir together water and mustard powder to form a smooth, loose sauce that lightly coats the back of a spoon. Set aside.
In a 12-inch cast iron skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add doenjang and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened and translucent, 5 to 6 minutes.
Add corn and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until corn is tender and liquid released from onion and corn has mostly evaporated, 6 to 8 minute
Sprinkle shredded mozzarella evenly over corn. Transfer skillet to oven, and broil until cheese is fully melted and lightly browned in spots, about 2 minutes. Transfer skillet to a heatproof surface. Drizzle mustard sauce over top, sprinkle with scallions and sea salt (if using), and serve immediately.
12-inch cast iron skillet
This recipe works equally well with fresh, frozen, and canned corn. Fresh, in-season corn is sweeter than frozen or canned, so add a touch of sugar if you use frozen or canned corn. If making with frozen corn, use 28 ounces (800g) corn kernels, combined with 2 teaspoons (10g) sugar. If using canned corn, use three 15.25-ounce (480g) cans of corn, drained, combined with 2 teaspoons (10g) sugar. Follow recipe instructions as written.
Make Ahead and Storage
This dish is best enjoyed immediately.