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This recipe is no recipe at all, it’s merely a suggestion. In other words, if you like to ad-lib in the kitchen and subscribe to the “cooking isn’t rocket science philosophy,” this non-recipe is for you. 

Few things rival a simply cooked ear of fresh summer corn. When it’s good, it doesn’t even have to be dressed in much at all. But, at least once during the summer months, while we keep a steady stream of corn coming into the kitchen, I like to prepare Elote, or Mexican street corn.  

There are different variations. Some say the corn needs to be cooked strictly through boiling. Others head right to the grill or even roast it. With some testing, I found the perfect middle ground serves up the most flavorful and textural appeal while cutting down on any inconveniently long cook times. 

Elote is a traditional Mexican street food. (Photo: Matthew DeRobertis)

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For this recipe, we’ll use four ears, but feel free to adjust to your family’s needs. First, boil up a large pot of water. In the pot, I toss in a ¼ cup of butter, a hefty pinch of salt, a bay leaf and, if you happen to have epazote lying around, a few sprigs of that. I never have the latter, but always grow oregano, so a few fresh sprigs or even a couple of teaspoons of dry oregano will work as a substitute.  

Boil, then grill, your corn

Once the water is at a steady boil, place your shucked ears of corn in the pot and let boil for 10 minutes. In the meantime, get your grill nice and hot. Once you pull your ears of corn out, they’ll be mostly tender, but the grill is going to add a nice smoky flavor and crunch to the final product. The corn will only need a few minutes per side, or until you see some nice grill marks. 

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As soon as the corn is off the grill, hit each ear with a good shot of fresh lime juice. The juice adds a nice layer of flavor and helps the rest of our ingredients adhere to the corn  

Elote is one way to use the summer abundance of fresh, sweet corn. (Photo: Matthew DeRobertis)

I like to set up stations for the next few ingredients and then have a final platter waiting at the end. First up is mayo: 3-4 ounces in total. I like a thin layer, just enough for the remaining ingredients to adhere, but some prefer to lather that gelatinous goodness on theirs. Go with what you like.  

Finish the ears

Once your mayo is slathered, sprinkle on a generous layer of finely crumbled or grated cotija cheese. Figure on using 6-7 ounces here. Next station, you’ll hit it with some chili powder. I prefer the slightly sweeter profile of ancho chili powder if you have it. You can do this to taste, but I roughly use a teaspoon per ear.  

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Finally, the last layer is chopped fresh cilantro. I think it adds a fresh herbal note and some visual appeal, but if you are like my father-in-law and think it takes soapy, feel free to skip this step.  

Garnish with some lime wedges and hot sauce if you like your corn a little spicy. For an added layer of festiveness, serve your corn on hefty wooden skewers for authentic street style appeal. Otherwise, dive in and have a couple napkins nearby. 

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Matthew DeRobertis is a chef, writer and father to a kid who loves food more than her dog. Contact him at [email protected]  

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