Food & Drink

How to Husk-Roast Sweet Corn

Washington, D.C. chef Reid Shilling gives his take on street corn that’s ripe for Fourth of July festivities—and previews his new restaurant in the Yards

photo: Nicole Glass


photo: Nicole Glass

Chef Reid Shilling.

It’s impossible for Chef Reid Shilling to separate childhood memories from meals. In preparing to open Shilling Canning Company, his new Washington, D.C. restaurant, the Baltimore native and former sous chef at the Dabney has been flooded with culinary flashbacks. His most recent: beach-bound drives along Maryland’s Eastern Shore stopping for tomatoes, green beans, peaches, and corn at roadside farm stands along the way.

It’s that last ingredient, corn, that really makes the Thomas Keller-trained chef nostalgic. “It’s my heritage,” Shilling says. 

For years, Maryland was synonymous with Silver Queen corn. The tender, creamy white variety that Shilling grew up eating was introduced, according to Slow Food USA, in 1955, and quickly became a favorite throughout the South. Washington City Paper writer Kim Farmer attributes Marylander’s special passion for the hybrid to its debut three years after the opening of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge which, as Shilling recalls from his own youth, channeled beachgoers through Eastern Shore farmland stopping for fresh produce en route to vacation  like St. Michael’s , Maryland, or Rehoboth, Delaware. By the 1990s, improved hybridization had given way to sweeter options like Argent, White Magic, and 81W that lasted longer once picked, dethroning Silver Queen. But for Shilling, that flavor imprint runs even deeper than road-trip recollections. His family has been farming Mid-Atlantic soil for generations. 

“They grew wheat, corn, tomatoes, and peas,” he says. In 1935, his great-uncles decided to capitalize on their farm’s bounty and opened Shilling Canning Company in Finksburg, Maryland.

“They were very, very keen on the quality of their ingredients. That’s what they built their farm on and that’s what they built their canning facilities on,” Shilling says. “They went so far as to label their cans: ‘This produce is packed fresh from our own farm.’ It was always a matter of quality first.”

Shilling wants to reflect that same attitude at Shilling Canning Company, his new restaurant in the Yards,  which is scheduled to open in the week of July 8. Shilling Canning Company will draw inspiration from the chef’s agricultural roots while showcasing the best of the Chesapeake region’s ingredients in dishes like his Husk Roasted Corn. 

Nicole Glass

To make his Marylander’s take on Mexican elote, or street corn, Shilling roasts locally sourced sweet corn inside its husk over a wood fire. “We put the corn as close to the ember pile as possible. To mimic this at home, lower your grill grate all the way to the coals. The husk protects the corn kernels, so don’t worry about over-charring the outside; you just don’t want to burn through the husk,” he says.

After roasting, Shilling peels and ties back the husks. He gives the corn a coat of oil and reheats it on the grill. After cooling, he coats each cob with homemade tarragon aioli and trades traditional crumbled cotija cheese for Shepherds Manor Creamery Fetina—a European-style feta, made in New Windsor Maryland, about 20 minutes from the original Shilling Canning Company. Then he dresses the corn with basil buds and toasted benne seeds, an ingredient Shilling discovered while working for The Dabney’s executive chef Jeremiah Langhorne.

Even better? Thanks to the tied-up husks, “it has a built-in handle,” Shilling says.


Ingredients

  • (Serves 6)

  • Husk Roasted Corn

    • 6 ears sweet corn

    • ¼ cup grapeseed oil

    • 3 tbsp. salt

    • Tarragon Aioli (recipe follows)

    • 1 bunch basil buds and torn leaves

    • 8 oz. crumbled feta

    • ¼ cup toasted benne seeds

  • Tarragon Aioli

    • 6 garlic cloves

    • ¾ cup canola oil

    • 1 egg yolk

    • 2 Tbs. ice water

    • ¼ cup olive oil

    • Pinch of salt

    • 2 tbsp. tarragon, chopped (“You'll want to use a very sharp knife and cut as finely as you can, to avoid having to cut twice which would bruise and brown the tarragon.”)


Preparation

  1. For the corn: Take unshucked sweet corn and lightly rub the husk with a little of the grapeseed oil and season with salt. Heat a charcoal grill, and place the corn across the grill grates and cook turning about an 1/8 of a turn once every one to two minutes.

  2. Once the husks are charred all the way around, the corn should be tender and cooked. (If the corn kernels have dimples or start to cave, you have cooked it too much.) Set the corn to the side to cool to the touch.    

  3. Once cooled, peel back the husks, removing the silk. Keep the husks attached and tie each husk in a bunch using butcher’s twine. 

  4. Rub the kernel in a light coating of grapeseed oil then season with salt and place back on the grill to get color if needed, turning frequently to avoid burning.

  5. Remove from the heat, allow to cool a bit, then liberally coat the corn with the Tarragon Aioli. It is important to let the corn cool slightly as the heat will break the aioli.

  6. Using the tied back husks as a handle dress the corn with basil buds/torn leaves.  Finish with the crumbled feta and toasted Benne.

  7. For the Tarragon Aioli: 

    Place the garlic and canola oil in a saucepan over low heat, and cook until the garlic is completely soft. Be careful not to color the garlic beyond a light blonde color or it can become bitter. Once the garlic is cooked, remove pan from heat and let infused oil cool to room temperature, then refrigerate to chill (but not solidify). 

  8. Place the egg yolk, garlic cloves, and ice water in a small food processor. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in the garlic-infused canola oil and the olive oil. As you add the oil, the mixture will thicken. If it gets too thick, you might need to add a little extra water. If the mixture looks like it is getting as thick as mayonnaise, you are making it correctly.

  9. Once all the oil is added, fold in the tarragon and season with a pinch or two of salt to your desired liking.


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