Friday, January 08, 2010
Corn Broth & Vegetable Medleys
Back during the summer, I was interviewing Mike Lata of FIG for a Charleston City Paper article on local restaurant trends, and he talked about this fish and shrimp succotash thing that had become a regular on the menu. The base of the succotash was something I'd never tried using before: corn broth. But, the triggerfish with shrimp succotash was so knock-your-socks-off good, I had to start experimenting with corn broth. It wasn't long before I was boiling up a dozen corn cobs at a time and freezing it for future use.
I was further inspired by John Ondo down at Lana, whose roasted chicken served over a bed of sauteed vegetables led me to a brief period where just about everything I cooked at home ended up being layered atop a medley of five or more veggies. The Wife, whose vegetable intake in any given month may consist solely of onion rings and the pickle from a cheeseburger, has accused me of trying to sneak a full bushel of vegetables into her diet--but even she isn't complaining, because it's so darn good.
The corn broth is simple to make: you simply carve the kernels off of anywhere from 2 to 12 ears of corn, reserving the kernels for cooking or freezing. Put the corn cobs in a pot with a bunch of water--at least enough to cover the cobs--bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, then strain and put into storage containers for freezing. Like chicken stock and duck fat, corn broth is a staple you should always have on hand in the freezer.
I need to come up with a snappier name than "vegetable medley", which sounds like something off the middle school lunchroom menu, but that's what it is. The great thing about my corn broth preparation is that you can use it with just about any vegetables--whatever you see fresh at the store. Usual suspects for mine: onions, zucchini, yellow squash, green beans, corn (of course), shallots, and limas. One of my particular favorites are previously-cooked blackeyed peas, which I goose up with onions and Benton's bacon and simmer for 45 minutes in chicken stock and white wine. I always make these in bulk, so there's usually a big tub of them in the freezer and I can thaw out a half cup or so to use in the medley, being sure to include several good chunks of bacon to add to the flavor.
The key is to precook anything that required more than a few minutes to cook. So, for example, I would blanche the green beans and use pre-cooked corn and blackeyed peas and get them ready ahead of time.
One of the many good things about this preparation is that it doesn't take very long to finish off once you get started. I'm usually serving something like pan-seared fish (flounder and trigger are good candidates) or roasted chicken over the veggies, so you can get the meat all ready and in its finishing state in the oven and kick off the final veggie prep.
For that, I melt a tablespoon (or two) of butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and add in, say, the onions. Once they are starting to get translucent, I throw in the tender stuff like squash and zucchini and give it a couple of minutes of sauteeing. Then, all the pre-cooked stuff, tossing it around for a minute or two until it's good and heated up. Then, pour over it all a splash of white wine, let it bubble away for a few seconds, then pour in a cup or so of corn broth. The pan is good and hot at this point, so the broth bubbles up pretty quickly and starts to boil, but you're not trying to create a reduction sauce here. I let it bubble for a minute or so, so that it starts to reduce just a bit but is still definitely thin and brothy, then pour they veggie mix (broth and all) into a wide, shallow bowl and lay over the top the night's fish or meat selection.
The secret to it all is the corn broth. It has a rich, delicate flavor that really lights up the vegetables and lays a perfect foundation for a fish or poultry dish.
This is one that now has a permanent place in my kitchen rotation.
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