Batter Licker

June 14, 2011

grilled chaat masala-spiced corn (corn à la Amit)

I’m no corn fanatic. I virtually abandoned the sweet, summer vegetable when it insisted on wrapping itself around the wires that slowly and painfully pulled my teeth in line during the far-too-many years I spent wearing braces throughout junior high and high school. At a time when appearance and avoiding classmates’ ridicule seemed all-important, the potato reigned as my slathered-in-butter-and-salt starchy vegetable of choice.

Even after the braces came off, it took awhile to readjust to certain foods, corn included, because several years wearing teeth cages had made me a tad OCD about keeping my teeth food remnant-free. Quite a few years later, my friend Amit introduced me to some grilled corn whose flavor finally justified the inevitable tooth-picking.

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Rather than slathering sweet, starchily rich corn in butter and off-setting the sweetness with salt, Amit grilled the corn until it was completely black. Admittedly, this method resulted in corn that was a bit too charred for my taste, as many of the kernels had also popped while grilling and depleted the delightful juiciness that makes corn, well, corn. But I knew the cooking technique could be altered on future occasions.

Amit really grabbed my attention when he dipped a lime wedge in a flavorful pile of ground Indian spices (I later came to know this pile as chaat masala or chunky chaat, which I’ve recommended before for oven-crisped chickpeas). Then, he proceeded to rub the spiced lime over piping hot grilled corn, squeezing out a bit of the lime juice as he went along.

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The tart lime juice balanced the sweetness of the corn in a way that butter had always failed to, while the chaat masala contributed a more complex, smokey-salty flavor that regular table salt lacked. And after that fateful moment a couple years and quite a few barbecues ago, Amit’s authentic Indian street food technique became my go-to grilled corn recipe. Minus the deeper-than-I-enjoy-it charring. But you’re welcome to remove the husks and amp up the grilling time if you wish to go the “authentic” route.

Grilled Chaat Masala-Spiced Corn (Corn à la Amit)
Serves 6 as a snack or side dish

The “authentic” way to make this Indian street food is to remove the husk completely, and char the heck out of the corn for about 25 minutes on the grill. This does work, but the corn gets a bit dry and deflated for my preference. The method below pre-cooks the corn in the microwave to reduce grilling time to just a few minutes over the length of time any grilled meat will need to rest, but it also allows corn enough time to soak up the smoky grill flavor and develop a bit of charring without losing its juicy bite.

3 ears of corn
1 lime, quartered
2 Tbsp. chunky chaat masala (available online, at your local Indian grocery store, or make your own)

Microwave corn (up to 3 ears at a time) for 6 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes. Remove threadlike silk between the husk and corn. Re-wrap 1 inner layer of husk around the corn (enough to keep in some moisture, but allow some charring on the grill). Remove remaining green outer layers of the husk. Note: you can remove all layers of husk, if desired, as long as you pre-cook in microwave because the corn won’t be on the grill long enough to lose its juiciness; but if you don’t pre-cook and opt to increase the grilling time, I would recommend grilling in the husk for at least half the time.

Fire up the grill. Don’t place corn on grill until it is very hot (i.e., if you place your hand 1 inch above the grill plate and can only hold it there for 1 to 2 seconds, that’s hot enough; otherwise, keep waiting). Grill corn until husk is charred and corn is tender, about 5 to 8 minutes per side. Remove husks once cool enough to handle.

While corn is still warm, cut lime into quarters. Dip lime into chaat masala, and rub spiced lime over an ear of corn, squeezing out some of the lime juice as you go and re-dipping in chaat masala as needed. Repeat for remaining corn (you can re-dip the lime quarters a couple times).

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