Sweet corn was a little bit late in my area this year but it has been here for a few weeks now and it seems the local stands sell out daily. We receive calls every year at AnswerLine concerning how long to cook sweet corn for “best” flavor. There is discussion every year among we coworkers as we all tend to do what we remember from growing up. Since there are no safety risks involved it is okay to cook the corn as we remember. However, much research has been done on the optimal way to cook sweet corn. Regardless of which way you decide to cook your sweet corn you will want to always start with the freshest corn possible and cook it as quickly after getting it as you can. Very soon after picking corn starts to convert the sugar in its kernels to starch. It also starts to lose some of its aroma and nutrients.
It is important to not overcook corn. The ears should be cooked only until the milk in the kernel is set. A very common way to cook sweet corn is to drop it into enough boiling water to cover and boil covered for @5 minutes. Penn State posted an article a while back that was interesting to me. One of their vegetable experts recommended after bringing fresh water to a boil to add 3 tablespoons sugar and a teaspoon of skim milk to the water. The reasoning was that the sugar helped the corn retain its own sugars rather than letting them be leached into the water and the skim milk enhanced the color of the corn. They recommended 7 minutes of boiling and also recommended never adding salt to the cooking water as that would toughen the kernels.
Many people like the convenience of microwaving sweet corn. One way to do that is to remove the outer husk, wash a single ear in cold water and wrap it in a paper towel dipped in cold water. Microwave each ear for 2-3 minutes on High. Another way is to remove the husks and silks, brush the ear with butter, seal in waxed paper and place in the microwave allowing at least 1 inch between ears. Microwave on High approximately 2 minutes per ear. Don’t do more than 4 ears at a time.
We have already enjoyed sweet corn at our house this season although I have not tried adding the extra sugar and little bit of skim milk to the cooking water. I’m planning to try that the next time!