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Corn on the Cob for a Crowd

I'm expecting about 40 people for a party this summer. I'd like to prepare (husk) the corn the day before. Is that OK? Store it husked in water? Or? What is the best way to prepare 50 ears of corn so that they are all done at about the same time? I have three microwaves and two grills, but the grills will probably be used for hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken.

Food snobs fly into a rage when anyone suggests that corn can be prepared in advance. Unless the ear of corn is husked and dropped into a pot of boiling water within 128 seconds of being lopped from the stalk, they argue, it simply isn't worth eating. We have little patience for food snobs.

And like you, we live in Maine, where local corn isn't available until about the first of August and where we eat as much of it as we can in the few short days of late summer. Yes, yes, food snobs, corn — like most fruits and vegetables — begins to decay as soon as it is cut from the stalk, and yes, corn is particularly problematic. It can convert as much as 40% of its sugar to starch in as little as 6 hours at room temperature. But we live in the real world, and not at the edge of a corn field. And we try to buy the freshest corn we can, and keep it cool and moist until we are ready to cook it. And many of the supersweet varieties of corn that are gown today retain delicious flavor for days. We have had corn right out of the field, corn from the farmer's market, and corn from the supermarket, and, while the quality has varied, most have been delicious. End of sermon.

So in terms of preparing corn for your party, the first concern is to buy it as fresh as possible — the day before the party, if possible. A farmer's market is an excellent source for fresh corn, or a nearby farmer might be willing to amble out into the field for an order of 50 ears. The husk is very important to keeping the corn from drying out, but with the cooking method we're going to recommend, we'll give special, one-time-only permission to shuck it a day in advance.

We like corn cooked in a microwave oven, especially if the oven has a turntable to help the food cook evenly. Since you have three, and want to have all the corn done more or less at the same time, that seems like the best option. Our suggestion is to shuck the corn, immediately wrap each ear in a paper towel, moisten each one pretty thoroughly with water, and put them in plastic bags or containers with lids. Then, if at all possible, store them in the refrigerator. Store them in your neighbors' refrigerators if you absolutely don't have room in your own.

While you slave over the chicken and hot dogs on the grills, have a trusted associate cook the corn, five or six ears at a time, in a covered, microwave-safe casserole dish for 6 to 7 minutes. If your fleet of microwaves do not have turntables, turn the dishes halfway through the cooking time. Leave the corn wrapped in their paper towels, which will help hold in the heat. Tell the corn cooker to beware of the heat of the corn and the steaming paper towels, and to use tongs to transfer the corn to platters. When you're ready to serve, you can either unwrap the corn, which will look much nicer, or leave them wrapped and let your guests unwrap them, which will keep them hotter.

If you have a large stock pot or two, another option for cooking a large quantity of corn quickly is to fire up the stove, get a huge amount of water boiling, and cook the ears for 4 to 7 minutes at a boil. If you add too many ears to the pot at one time, though, it will take much longer for the water to return to the boil.


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