Canned vegetables range from uninspiring to surprisingly good, and canned corn is among the best of all. Its natural sweet juiciness is little impaired by the canning process, and -- as many a bachelor can attest -- it's tasty enough to eat straight from the can. Of course, like any other ingredient, you can improve it tremendously with a little creativity. "Variety is the spice of life," and there are many ways to "spice up" your cans of golden kernels.
South by Southwest
Corn is a signature ingredient in many Southwestern dishes, usually in conjunction with black beans. Make a quick and tasty salad by rinsing and draining canned black beans and corn, then adding diced ripe tomatoes. Toss the mixture with avocado oil and lime juice, mild chilies or hot sauce, and the chopped white portions of green onions; then garnish with chopped cilantro and the green ends of the onions.
On the Side
The same basic ingredients can also be prepared as a hot side dish. Sweat onions and garlic gently in a skillet until translucent; then add diced or sliced chilies and your diced tomatoes. Once they're slightly softened, add the corn, black beans and cumin or chili powder. Stir until the mixture's well-heated; then serve it as a side dish with grilled meats or roasted chicken breast.
Louisiana has a way of transforming ordinary ingredients into memorable dishes, and corn is no exception. A fine example is "maque choux," which begins with onions and sweet red bell peppers sauteed gently until they're slightly softened. Add your can of corn and then heavy whipping cream, and season the mixture with fresh thyme -- the French influence -- and hot pepper sauce. Once the cream thickens, adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and more hot sauce.
Not-Quite Grilled Corn
Grilled corn is a barbecue-season favorite, eaten either as a side dish in its own right or as an ingredient in salads, relishes and side dishes. To simulate its flavor, preheat a heavy skillet and add a small quantity of oil. Pour in your well-drained corn, and wait -- without stirring it --until its surplus moisture evaporates, and the kernels begin to sear and brown. Add a healthy pinch of smoked paprika or chipotle powder to simulate the smoky grilled flavor.
Simulated grilled corn skews in a savory direction, but you can also caramelize your canned corn to bring out its sweetness. Gently cook sliced onions in a small amount of oil or butter; remove them and add your canned corn. Bring up the heat gently, and sprinkle the corn with a pinch of sugar. Stir until the corn browns and caramelizes and serve it hot with equally sweet baked squash or serve it cold in a salad with tangy tomatoes.
Corn and Zucchini
Corn and squash are natural partners, and your canned corn's sweetness goes well with zucchini or other summer squash. For a light and summery version, saute the squash briefly with onions, garlic and your canned corn until it's just tender. Alternatively, make a more autumnal version by slow-cooking the onions and zucchini together until they're soft and well-caramelized, concentrating the flavors of both vegetables. Add the corn, and season the mixture with salt and pepper as it warms.
Corn "oysters" -- spoon-sized fritters -- are an old-fashioned side dish made with corn, separated eggs and flour. Crush the corn lightly with the back of a spoon to release some of its "milk"; then add the egg yolks and flour to make a batter. Fold in the beaten egg whites, and spoon small portions into a skillet of hot fat. Serve well-drained fritters with a dip or as a side dish with chicken or seafood.
Canned corn also makes for quick corn chowders in many different styles. Add it to ham and potatoes for a Midwestern comfort-food "take" on the theme, or use corn and green beans garnished with crumbled crisp bacon. Corn chowders are especially good with sweet shellfish such as crab, lobster or scallops, with a dash of hot sauce -- or a few slivers of fresh chilies -- as a foil for the rich soup.
The quickest, simplest way to jazz up your canned corn is by making seasoned butter ahead of time. Knead your favorite herbs or spices into a few tablespoons of butter; then roll it into a log and wrap it for the fridge or freezer. When mealtime rolls around, cut a coin-shaped disc of "compound" butter -- as it's called in restaurants -- and let it melt over the warmed-up corn.