How to Make Elote, or Mexican Grilled Corn

grilledcornThree years ago I discovered something at the farmers' market that changed my life: it's called elote (Mexican grilled corn).

Despite the fact that it was only 10:30 in the morning, the aroma of smoky grilled corn lured Jeff and me to a stand where open grills were covered with plump ears of roasting corn. As soon as each ear was cooked it was quickly jammed onto a stick then drowned in a lime-spiked mayonnaise sauce, rolled in crumbly cotija anejo cheese and sprinkled with lime juice and cayenne pepper. Each customer's eyes widened in anticipation when handed this unusual treat.

Since that day, I have learned that the Spanish word "elote" can refer to corn or to grilled corn and that it's a common street food in many parts of Mexico. Like the famed fish taco, grilled corn is classic street food: unpretentious yet remarkable in its unique flavor. It's hot and creamy and salty and spicy, and utterly, wholeheartedly addictive.

You don't have to live in Southern California to experience Mexican grilled corn; it's easy to make at home (which you simply must do before the end of corn season). Just be sure to have lots of napkins on hand. You'll need them. Or if it’s just too messy for you, then cut off the grilled kernels, mix them with the ingredients, and eat it with a spoon. It may be neater, but it’s not nearly as much fun.

Elote, or Mexican Grilled Corn
Serves 4

4 ears sweet corn
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper of chile powder
salt, to taste
2/3 cup crumbled cotija anejo cheese
lime wedges
extra cayenne pepper of chile powder, for sprinkling
fresh finely chopped cilantro for optional garnish

Soak corn (in husks) in cold water for 25-30 minutes.

Prepare a medium-hot grill. Peel back the corn husks leaving them attached at the end. Remove the silk. Pull the husks back up and tie with a spare piece of husk or a small piece of cooking twine. Place the ears on the grill. Cook 20-25 minutes, turning several times to ensure even roasting. The kernels should be soft when fully cooked.

If you’d like the kernels more charred, then simply follow the above instructions, but cook in husks for 15 minutes only. Then cool ears slightly, pull back the husks (to use as handles) and place the ears directly on the grill (with husks overhanging the side) for 5-7 minutes, or until they reach desired level of charring.

Place crumbled cheese on a plate large enough to fit an ear of corn. In a small bowl mix the mayonnaise, lime juice, cayenne pepper or chile powder, and salt. When the corn is cooked, brush each ear with some mayo sauce then roll in the cheese. Serve with lime wedges, additional cayenne pepper or chile powder, and fresh finely chopped cilantro.

** Cotija anejo, a mild-flavored Mexican cheese with a crumbly texture, can be found in Mexican markets or in the refrigerator section of most major supermarkets. Queso fresco, another mild Mexican cheese, is a good substitute and also can be found in most major supermarkets.

Note: If you are unable to grill outdoors, then you can oven roast the corn. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and place corn in husks (no need to soak first) directly on the middle rack of the oven for 30 minutes, or until corn is soft to the touch. Allow to cool slightly, then remove husks and silks, and add toppings.

Susan Russo is a free lance food writer in San Diego, California. She publishes stories, recipes, and photos on her cooking blog, <Food Blogga and is a regular contributor to NPR’s <Kitchen Window. She is also the author of  Recipes Every Man Should KnowCookbook Review: Parents Need to Eat Too and The Encyclopedia of SandwichesCookbook Review: Parents Need to Eat Too.