Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Corn in a cup: portable flavor, permanent roots

It could well be considered the darling of the Mexican appetizers. This explosion of tender corn, freshly removed from the cob, covered with sour cream, bits of salty white cheese, a touch of melted butter, and of course chile, a lot of chile – it leaves the most refined gourmets literally licking their fingers.

“My secret is a knife that is thin and well sharpened,” said Ramiro García, who sells corn in cups from a food stand in east Tulsa. “You can have all the ingredients, but if the knife is not good, you’ll damage the ear and you won’t get the corn kernels as they should be,” said the cook, who is originally from the state of Michoacán in Mexico. This snack is known there as vasolote. “The other thing is to have a pot of boiling water to put the corn just in as soon as you cut it. It is left there for about five minutes.”

García said he leaves salt out of his recipe “because the cheese itself is very salty.” He garnishes it with two lemon wedges and a bit of Valentina sauce or some spicy-fruity chamoy. “It depends on the client’s taste.”

María Gutierrez, whose stand is two blocks from García’s, said the “‘corn in a cup’ does not exist; what exists are esquites.” She says the corn should be fried with onion, chiles and garlic. “The other way in which it is sold is boiled corn with cream. For me, that is not corn in a cup.”

Gutierrez’s sofrito sauce includes green chiles, chile de árbol and some epazote leaves. Its consistency is like a sort of stew with a lot of corn kernels. She said that is how it is eaten in the Mexican state of Hidalgo. “This is the original form.”

Lupita Echeverría sells corn from a mobile food stand in the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood. “The best thing about this dish is that people take it with them and enjoy it while walking or driving,” she said. “My recipe is simple. I mix two types of cheese: yellow to give it consistency and Cotija to flavor it.” She also adds lemon juice to the cream, and then dips it in a mountain of chili powder. “Each mouthful will convey all the flavors.”

Julio Pereira uses mayonnaise instead of cream. “That is like my trademark,” he said as he handled several orders in his stand at Plaza Santa Cecilia in east Tulsa. “Mayonnaise makes it firmer and it tastes better.”

Regardless of the time of day, hot or not, one can get a to-go gift in the form of corn in a cup. It is without doubt the best way to get a bit of our traditions in one’s hands and on one’s taste buds.

How does one choose the best corn?
Cooks who were interviewed agreed on these factors to get tender and fresh corn:
It should be in its husk, which should have a light green color and have no spots.
The corn’s silk should be bright and moist.
The kernels should have a bright color: bright white or yellow.
When the kernels are pressed, they should express a bit of juice; otherwise, they are dry.

Photos by Juan Miret

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