Apr 1, 2009

Milkin' Corn

Corn maque chou is a Cajun dish and one I never ate growing up in a predominantly Creole family. I was first introduced to it not by taste, but by a poem. The poem was written by a graduate student at ULL and it detailed the preparation of maque chou. The poet described her grandmother harvesting corn from her garden, then slicing the kernels off the cob, milk running down her forearms to her elbows. For some reason, that image stuck with me. Maybe because I've also long had an interest in gardening and plants as well as in cooking.

My first taste of maque chou was at Prejean's Restaurant. Admittedly, this is a tourist place where diners eat pricey, upscale versions of Cajun food amongst stuffed alligators and a gift shop. But, locals eat there too because the food is good...and the maque chou isn't an exception. Prejean's maque chou comes served in a small, sweetened pie shell--not something you'd get at maw maw's house and definitely far from its origins as a simple, no-frills stewed corn dish.

Traditional maque chou is a dish made with corn, onions, garlic, bell pepper, and tomatoes--basically one's garden in a pot. There are more elaborate versions that contain cooked chicken or crawfish; I prefer the standard.

Cajuns first learned how to make corn maque chou from Native Americans, who also gave us an understanding of file powder (ground sassafras used as a thickener in gumbo). When Cajuns settled in LA, they lived off the land and waters and made do with what they had. Every Cajun settlement had a vegetable garden which supplemented what was caught, trapped, or hunted. Many Cajuns still tend large vegetable gardens today. Maque chou is one way to showcase what they grow.

For an exceptional maque chou, it is important that the corn is at its peak. The "milk" is what keeps the dish moist and creamy. Corn "milk" is the endosperm of the grain--which nourishes the embryo. Nothing beats maque chou that is made with good, fresh, milky corn. But, if fresh corn kernels aren't plump and juicy, there are ways around it. Use either canned or frozen corn with creamed corn and milk or cream added.

Linked with Food on Friday: Corn @ Carole's Chatter

Corn Maque Chou
Ms. enPlace from Tony Chachere's Cajun Country Cookbook

12 ears fresh corn, or sub. 2 cans whole kernel and 1 can cream style corn

1 large onion chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 ripe tomato, diced small
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup milk
1 stick butter
Cajun seasoning or salt, pepper and cayenne, to taste

Cut corn off cob and scrape cobs to get all the juice. Heat butter in a dutch oven, add onion, bell pepper and garlic and saute until tender. Add corn and juices, tomato, and seasonings. Cook mixture over medium heat for 1 ½ hours. Stir frequently, adding a little milk throughout the process to keep the mixture moist and soft.

If you're a regular, you know the drill. Mise enplace. If you aren't a regular, that means get it together before you start cookin'.
I greatly reduced the recipe here since I didn't need to feed the neighborhood. Also, I guess I feel kinda bad...using Tony's recipe, but not his seasoning. The other one was on sale.

Scrape the kernels off the cobs. After that, scrape the cobs again to "milk" them. If fresh corn isn't at it's peak, don't bother with it. Use canned or frozen.

Melt butter and cook onions, bell pepper, and garlic until tender.

Like that.

Add the seasonings, tomatoes, and corn and its juices.

Cook down for a long time, adding milk or cream as needed to keep corn moist.

Summer on a plate.

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