As I sit down to write this post we are waltzing, make that running, through the last days of summer. Now is the time to fire up the grill and eat outdoors, before the waning days of humid haze elude us, and we wish it were once again time to complain about the heat. It is also peak season for my latest obsession: yellow corn with white wine!
I recently took myself on a foodie mission in search of the city’s best elotes callejeros. Spanish for grilled corn-on-on-the cob smothered with cream, spice and a squirt of caramelized lime, elotes callejeros is a perennial summer favorite I hadn’t munched on since making it for my Cinco de Mayo cooking lesson back in May. Undeterred by the large crowds nestled in front of Café Habana, it was here that I found what I consider to be corn’s reigning kingdom. As I poked my head inside the café doorframe, I noticed just about every single patron (and one of the chefs on the line!) eating the grilled “crack-on-the-cob.” After what seemed like an eternity (really only 15 minutes) I was gifted an order of corn to-go and rushed myself back home to my rooftop, where a sunset and a chilled bottle of 2007 Zette White awaited my return.
Now I have not always been a white wine drinker. For many years my motto was, “Chocolate should be dark, Milk should be whole, and Wine should be red.” But as with so many things, Mac has introduced me to the splendor that is a great bottle of white on a sultry summer eve, and these days, I’m drinking more vino blanco then I ever thought possible. But I’m very picky with my whites, and in truth, only love chardonnay and champagne. My palette just doesn’t do the zesty, mineraly whites out of Italy or the grüner veltliners from Austria everyone’s so hot for. My French Laundry experience taught me that I can do a sweet, syrupy riesling, if and only if, I’m sipping it alongside foie gras. Of course, nothing pairs better with tapas than a dry sherry, but taken in sum, that’s sort of the extent of my white wine vinocabulary. Mock if you must, but I like big, oaky, round chardonnays, preferably out of California, that taste like brown-butter and feel like cream sliding down the back of my throat. Which is exactly why I like Zette. Though from Southern France, this blend of 80% chardonnay and 20% viognier grapes, offers abounding fruit flavors with a toasty finish, the ultimate compliment to sweet butter-soaked corn charred over an open flame.
I can honestly say elotes callejeros from Café Habana is the single best way to spend $3.95 in New York City. One order gets you two delicious corn cobs smothered in a blend of spicy creamy goodness. Butter, mayonnaise, cheese, and chili powder with a spritz of lime, make this dish a rich, bold, salty, smooth summer indulgence that will change the way you think about corn-on-the-cob. Forget boiling (which sucks out many of corn’s nutrients and adds none of the coveted char that makes corn pop when cooked over an open flame), and try making this recipe at home by throwing a few cobs and a few halved limes over direct heat on the grill. Periodically rotate the cobs so that they char on all sides. In the meantime, blend together a stick of softened, salted butter and a tablespoon or two of mayo. When the hot cobs come off the grill, use a pastry brush to spread a thin layer of cream over each ear of corn and sprinkle with cheese (preferably something without much bite, like a Mexican cojita or queso blanco, so the sweet corn can take center stage). Finish the cobs with a dash of chili powder and squirt of caramelized lime. Pair them with your favorite bottle of a chilled white wine, and enjoy the last few bites of summer. Trust me, life has never tasted so good. Eat it up!