Remember when Meet the Parents was the funniest movie and people loved to do that nipple-tugging gesture and ha-ha-ha you can milk a cat and it never got old. Until it did! Circa 2011. So I mostly forgot about it until I had to write this piece. Thankfully, that’s not what we’re doing with corn. Not that. Not that at all.
We’re cutting the corn kernels off, per usual, and then scraping the naked cob with the back of a knife to release the corn milk. That is milking corn. Nothing creepy, unless you want it to be, in which case, what you do in your kitchen is your business.
Why do we milk corn? (Not to be confused with sweet Sichuan drink, corn milk.) Because the sweet, yes milky, juices are concentrated corn flavor. In Sohla El-Waylly’s new recipe for Corn and Peach Chaat, the corn milk adds sweetness that you’d typically get from chutney in chaat, and that sweetness balances the savory chaat masala and spicy chiles and ginger. Also, corn milk is starchy. When you make a dressing with it—raw—as in this recipe, it gets creamy and clings to every kernel.
When you cook with corn milk, it really thickens up. Sohla said she makes creamed corn without any actual cream, relying on the corn milk to get the job done.
“If you don’t scrape your corn, you’re losing a lot,” said Sohla. Here’s a tip: Don’t cut the corn all the way to the cob. Shave off the flavorful, juicy corn kernel tops and leave the fibrous root behind. That’s the stuff that gets stuck in your teeth anyway, and it’ll leave more material to make corn milk with. Also: It’s important to use fresh, in-season, good corn for this to succeed, she added. The stuff in grocery stores mid-December is mostly likely too dry and sadly bland.
Elsewhere, Amiel Stanek’s admittedly absurd triple corn polenta gets super luscious thanks to starchy corn milk. It thickens Claire Saffitz’s Basically corn salsa (she also smashes the cobs). It sweetens the sauce in Molly Baz’s scallops with chorizo and corn. I also came across a handful of corn recipes that don’t use it and should, and those will remain nameless, but if you’re making ANY corn salad, muffins, or adding it to pasta, or a fun random stir-fry—add the milk! Don’t let that sweet summer nectar go to waste.
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