I recently wrote about our trip to Sedona, Arizona and the fact that the food in the town is, by and large, overpriced and lacking in character. The single standout exception is Elote Café. One of the restaurant’s best dishes is the one from which it took its name: elote (sweet corn).
It is a take on an example of classic Mexican street food, two of them, actually. In the north of Mexico elote is served in a cup with mayonnaise and chile as well as Mexican cheese. In Mexico City, the sweet corn is more likely to be served on the cob with the various condiments slathered on to the customer’s taste. Elote Café’s version is based on fire roasted corn, spicy mayonnaise and cotija cheese.
It’s a terrific dish, one I order just about any opportunity I have to do so. In fact, during my stage at La Justina in Tijuana, I’d made innumerable cups of a different take on the same dish called Elotes en Vaso. The La Justina version is built around corn that is “roasted” on the cob using a blowtorch. While I didn’t come to love this dish just because it gave me an excuse to play with a blowtorch I will confess to having enjoyed that aspect. In fact, essentially the same result could have been achieved by roasting the corn over an open flame (a gas burner would do just fine). After we removed the corn kernals from the cob we gave them a quick sauté with lime juice and chicken stock before serving them in a classic Mexican powder coated aluminum coffee mug that had been treated to a swipe of mayonnaise.
My main problem with the La Justina version was the presentation. While I understood the clear street food reference, it seemed to sell the dish short. The proportion of corn to sauce in the Elote Café version was a bit more than I liked and, while it came to the table in a bowl rather than a mug, the presentation still seemed lacking.
For my version of the dish I went back to the techniques from the La Justina take, adding some spice into the mayonnaise, but presented it differently. The swipe of that mayonnaise along the side of the bowl allows the diner to incorporate as much or as little as he or she likes to balance the acidity of the lime from the corn. I garnished mine with pickled red onions and cilantro leaves.
If using a blowtorch or roasting the corn over open flame intimidates you, don’t do it. Cook the corn in any way that makes you comfortable: roast it in the oven in foil, boil it in water, whatever technique works for you. It will still be a delicious dish.
Elotes en Tazón (Sweet Corn in a Bowl)
Serves 4 – 6
For the Pink Pickled Onions
- 1 red onion, sliced in half moons
- ½ cup red wine vinegar
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup Kosher salt
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
For the Corn
- 6 ears of corn, shucked and silk removed
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- ½ cup lime juice
- ½ cup chicken (or vegetable) stock
For the Mayonnaise
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 egg plus 1 additional yolk
- 1 ½ cups of grapeseed or other neutral oil
- 1 lime, juiced
- 2-3 tablespoons Tajin (or other chile-lime spice blend or chile spice blend)
For the Garnish
- Grated cotija cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano is a more expensive but inferior, if more readily available, substitute)
- 8-12 attractive cilantro leaves
- Make the Pink Pickled Onions. Place the onion slices in a metal bowl and cover with boiling water for one minute before draining. Place the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the sliced onions to the saucepan and let stand for one to two hours. Store in a refrigerator.
- “Roast” the corn. Place the ears of corn on a sheet pan or other heat resistant surface. Using a blowtorch, run the flame up and down each the ears until early all of the kernels of each ear of corn are blackened. Alternatively, roast each of the ears over an open gas burner until the same effect is achieved.
- Make the Mayonnaise. Place the garlic and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the “S” blade. Pulse the processor until the garlic is pulverized, about 10 or 15 seconds. Add the egg and egg yolk to the bowl of the processor and process until fully integrated, about five seconds. Slowly, almost drip by drip, drizzle in the oil until it is fully incorporated and the sauce fully emulsified. Add in the lime juice and process to fully combine. Remove about half the sauce, reserving it for another purpose. Add in half the Tajin and process to combine. Taste the sauce. If you want more heat and salinity add more Tajin. If you want more heat, but not more salt, add in a hot sauce of your choice.
- Finish cooking the corn. Cut the kernals of corn off the cobs. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. When you see convection lines (think waves) in the oil add the corn kernels and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook for a moment to combine and then add in half the lime juice and half the stock. Continue cooking the corn until the liquids evaporate. Taste the corn. If it needs more acidity add in more lime juice. If it is overly acidic add more stock. Continue cooking to evaporate any remaining liquid.
- Plate the Dish. Spoon two tablespoons of spicy mayonnaise on the inside rim of a shallow soup bowl. Using a spatula, wooden spoon or serving spoon swipe around the rim of the bowl spreading out the mayonnaise. Ladle about half a cup of corn kernals in the center of the bowl. Top the kernals with grated cotija cheese, two to three pickled onion