Becoming a good cook is a little bit like becoming a good musician: at a certain point, you can glance at a recipe–the way a pianist might glance at a piece of sheet music–and know what it’s going to taste like, just like the pianist knows what it’s going to sound like. That’s a real skill to have, especially when planning a dinner and searching through cookbooks for something to dazzle. On the morning our story begins, I was flipping through a Food52 Cookbook that I was sent long ago, and this recipe–which is also live on the Food52 site–sang out to me like a Mozart concerto. Turns out, not only did it taste as good as it did in my head; it tasted even better.
It’s a recipe that has its own logic: you start by rendering bacon.
When the bacon is crisp, you remove it and pour out some of the fat. Then you add onions and cook them ’til they’re translucent; at which point you deglaze with balsamic vinegar:
Then you cook them down with some sugar and salt for about 30 minutes. The idea is that you’re creating a sour component that’ll complement the sweet summer corn and the meaty/salty bacon.
While that’s happening, you see about the corn. I took a departure here from the recipe because I didn’t want to dirty as many pots/bowls. The recipe has you boil whole ears of corn and then cut them off the cob. Instead, I cut the corn off the cobs raw using the technique where you put an upside-down bowl inside a bowl to catch all the kernels as they go aflying (this worked quite well):
Then I took my largest non-stick skillet, added a glug of olive oil, heated it, and then added all of the corn with a big pinch of salt, stirring a bit until the corn was just cooked.
To finish, you dump the cooked corn into a big bowl and add the bacon and the balsamic onions.
Then lots of chopped cilantro:
Stir that in and there you are, a killer summer side dish that I served with my famous spicy spatchcocked chicken.
It’s a side dish so good, you can’t possibly make too much. I ate more than two helpings and nearly fought over the rest. Again: it has the sweetness of summer corn, the salty/meatiness of bacon, and the zippy tang of balsamic-infused onions. Why are you not rushing to the store to make this right now? If there’s a run on corn at your local grocery store, now you’ll know why.
Recipe: Sweet Summer Corn with Bacon and Balsamic Onions
Summary: Based on a recipe from Food52.com.
- 6 slices of bacon or pancetta, cut into lardons
- A splash of neutral oil (like Canola, Vegetable, Grapeseed)
- 1 large red onion, peeled and diced
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 6 ears of fresh corn
- 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
- Start by rendering the bacon in a large skillet with that splash of neutral oil–which helps the bacon start going–until most of the fat has come out and the bacon is crisp. Lift the bacon to a paper-towel lined plate and pour out some of the bacon fat, leaving about 2 tablespoons.
- Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the red onion. Saute with a pinch of salt for a minute, then add the balsamic vinegar, sugar, a pinch of salt and some pepper. Bring to a boil, scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan, then lower to a simmer and cook for 20 to 25 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated.
- While that’s happening, husk the fresh corn and cut the kernels from the cob by placing a small bowl upside-down inside a large bowl, placing a cob on top, and cutting straight down with a sharp knife. (Save those cobs; you can use them to make corn soup some other time.)
- Heat a large non-stick skillet with the remaining 2 tablespoon of olive oil; then add all of the corn kernels and a big pinch of salt, tossing and stirring until the kernels are just cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes. Pour the cooked corn into a large bowl.
- To finish, stir the corn together with the reserved bacon, the balsamic onions, and the finely chopped cilantro. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Preparation time: 30 minute(s)
Cooking time: 30 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 6