In Season Now: Corn

How to maximize summer's sweetest grain

Corn: We love it every which way. Lucky for us, it's at its peak right now and should be eaten as quickly as possible, as its natural sugars start breaking down almost as soon as it's picked. Some people like to peel back the husks and check out the kernels at the market, though many vendors (not to mention other shoppers) frown on it. Instead, check for bright green, snug husks and brown, sticky silks on top (if they've gone black, the corn is probably old). Got it? Great. Now here's what to do with those handsome cobs.

Boiled: If you're just eating straight from the cob, boiling is your best bet. Shuck it just before, then cover the corn with unsalted water (salt toughens the kernels) in a deep pot and boil for no more than five minutes. The kernels should feel fresh to the touch soft—not mushy. You can also slice kernels off the cob to add to other dishes. Cookbook author Ted Lee suggests making a succotash salad—simply mix the kernels with cooked shelled butterbeans and chopped fresh tomatoes. Make a dressing out of tomato juice strained from the seeds and some good balsamic vinegar. "It's perfect for packing into Mason jars and taking along on a picnic," Lee says.

Grilled: Mark Davidoff of Café Habana, a New York restaurant known for their Mexican-style grilled corn, says bigger is better when it comes to grilling corn. "Larger ears with big kernels have more moisture to stand up to high, dry heat," he says. At Habana, they shuck the corn before grilling and turn it frequently to evenly caramelize each kernel, then top the cobs with mayo, cotija cheese, chili powder and lime. You can also grill corn in the husks, which gives the kernels a slightly smoky flavor without the char.

Ice Cream: Corn isn't just for savory dishes. Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams makes a sweet corn ice cream swirled with black raspberry jam in the summer. "Corn is already sweet and milky in flavor, so it's perfect for ice cream," she says. To make the ice cream, Britton Bauer boils fresh creamed kernels and the cob itself with milk, cream, sugar and corn syrup, then strains it and whisks in cornstarch and cream cheese before putting the mixture into an ice cream machine. If you can't find black raspberries, she suggests a topping of honey butterscotch sauce and corn nuts (yes, gas-station style) for the "perfect taste of Midwestern summer."

What Else? Say you leave your corn in the fridge for a bit too long and it dries out. Not all hope is lost! Lee uses this as an opportunity to break out an old-fashioned Appalachian-inspired dish—gritted cornbread—that was developed to make use of corn that had stayed on the stalk too long to eat, but not long enough to be made into animal feed. "Simply grate the cob on a box-grater—you could use a large-gauge Microplane—and add the resulting mash and juice to your favorite cornbread recipe," he says. "With the additional moisture, the bread will take a few more minutes to bake, but the rich flavor you end up with is really something special."