Kevin Gillespie has been anticipating Silver Queen corn season each year for most of his life. “I have a clear memory of being outside my Granny Geneva’s house at a picnic table, shucking Silver Queen and hulling lady peas in the summertime,” says the Georgia native and executive chef and owner of Revival in Decatur, Georgia, and Gunshow in Atlanta. “Granny grew lady peas. Her neighbor grew Silver Queen. So they swapped. She got the grandkids to do the work because we knew there was fried corn for dinner if we did!” Developed in the 1950s, Silver Queen gained rock-star produce status in the South thanks to its sweet white kernels. It has become harder to find as other sweet varieties have come about, but it’s worth seeking out in June and July. “There’s just a lot of nostalgia and anticipation about Silver Queen season,” Gillespie says. “Even raw you can taste the sweetness, while yellow corn can taste tannic and bitter raw. It also has more crunch, a plump kernel, and doesn’t get mushy as quickly.” When you find Silver Queen at a farmers’ market or a roadside stand, make sure there’s no space between the kernels (this tells you the moisture content is optimal), and choose smaller ears, which tend to be sweetest. “And look for indications of worms or bugs,” Gillespie says. “They love Silver Queen, too.” Store the ears in the crisper drawer, in their husks, and eat within a few days. Gillespie likes to cut the kernels off the cob and steam or sauté them to add to a summer salad. Or he’ll dunk the whole ears in water and char them on a smoking hot grill. But his favorite prep is to fry the kernels with a bit of fatback—just as Granny Geneva taught him many summers ago.
The Chef Recommends:
Fatback-Fried Silver Queen Corn
Yield: 4 servings
5 ears Silver Queen corn, husks and silk removed
3 oz. fatback, minced (available at most butcher shops)
¼ cup onion, finely minced
2 tbsp. heavy cream
2 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp. lemon juice
Grate corn on the largest holes of a box grater (you’ll end up with about 2 cups of grated kernels). In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the fatback to render the fat, about 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, put fried fatback on a plate and set aside. Transfer the rendered fat to a small metal bowl. Put 2 tbsp. of fat into the skillet and heat over medium-high. Add onion and corn and cook for 30 seconds, tossing so they won’t stick. Add cream, salt, and pepper, and cook using the washing machine method (hold your spoon in the center and shake or rotate the pan vigorously to quickly mix everything together). When the mixture thickens (the corn will bind into one big clump), remove from heat and stir until bubbles subside. If mixture is too thick for you, add a few drops of water to thin it. Stir in lemon juice and serve immediately. Garnish with minced fried fatback.
Tip: Grating the kernels off the cob extracts the pulp, which contains the bulk of Silver Queen’s flavor. Grate over a bowl to prevent kernels from scattering over the counter.