Corn has been propagated in the Uncompahgre Valley for decades, and for a few weeks every year the sweet crop is on the lips of foodies from the region, around the state and occasionally in the national press.
There are few things outside politics that divide people quite like food. How, and maybe more importantly, how not to, make dishes like green chile, for example (read Joe Ouelette’s take on that on page here), or who has the best peaches, have for time immemorial created family feuds. At this time of the year, corn is the subject of much lyrical waxing from farmers’ co-ops to the state house.
Sweet as Bro / Bi-Curious
Much like peaches from Palisade, of which there are dozens of varieties that just happen to be grown in Palisade (and therefore make the term Palisade peach somewhat redundant), sweet corn grown in this area can be one of a few varieties, and like Palisade peaches, those varieties are grown in other places.
The dominant variety in this area is “Olathe Sweet'' sweet corn, the variety grown by Tuxedo Corn Company in Olathe. It’s the one you are most likely to encounter in stores and farm stands. But it isn’t the only corn cultivated in these parts. Developed by Twin Garden Farms of Harvard in 1968 (and therefore predating Olathe Sweet by around two decades), Mirai corn is grown here, too, although in much smaller volumes.
Ten minutes outside Montrose, Honey Acre Farms has, among plenty of other produce, four acres of Mirai corn. Chuck and Jami English harvest the corn daily between the early part of July and mid-September. The same morning it is harvested, it is driven 4.9 miles to the Honey Acres farm stand on East Oak Grove Road behind US Bank. Perhaps it’s the relative rarity of Mirai or its extra sweetness, but either way it has carved out a dedicated following in what is undoubtedly Olathe Sweet country. Some say Mirai is superior, others prefer Olathe Sweet, and we are back to disagreeing.
While crunching through a mass of butter-bathed cobs (with a light dusting of garlic salt) is maybe the purest way to enjoy this seasonal favorite, giving farm-fresh ingredients to trained chefs to see what they can do with it is an educational experience.
Joe Ouelette did an admirable job with a box of oyster and lion’s mane mushrooms from Alpenglow in the first issue of Wayfinder; this time we ventured to Ouray to see what Cory Sargent, chef and co-owner of Brickhouse 737, could do to transform the humble sweet corn into a meal fit for paying customers.
At Brickhouse 737, Sargent likes to present a varied menu that utilises farm-fresh ingredients. He also presents dishes that are inspired by his travels, while maintaining a core of dishes that can best be described as contemporary American. Expect to see corn in various formats on the menu at Brickhouse 737 for several weeks, but even if you can’t get down to sample Sargent’s dishes, let his creative culinary chops serve as inspiration.
Not so (Kitchen) Confidential
Sargent’s braised boneless short rib gets a sweet and sour crunch with picked corn to cut though the rich beef and the horseradish whipped Yukon potatoes. Charred on the grill in the husks, the kernels are then sliced from the cob before a quick pickle. While the process is simple enough, it is the utilisation of the corn and the juxtaposition of the pickle with the other elements of the dish that make it worthy of Sargents menu, and, he hopes, your hard-earned money.
Sargent’s other dish on the menu at the time of writing that uses corn, promotes it from accoutrement to a more leading role. Paired with seared scallops, the corn in this dish is made into a cream that the scallops bathe in on the plate. It is made by first soaking then grilling the corn in the husk. As soon as it's charred on the outside and cooled a little, it’s sliced off the cob and blended with a touch of buttermilk and creme fraiche until smooth. Sea salt and black pepper are added before it is pushed through a chinois to make it super silky. The dish is finished with pasta pearls, candied bacon, a salad of asparagus, snap peas, radish, whole kernels, and picked wild ramps. It is finished with a parsley verde sauce.
Of course, Sargent isn’t the only chef utilising corn in the region, but corn season is short, so get it where you can, while you can.
Cory Sargent's menu can be viewed at Brickhouse737.com and Honey Acre Farms can be found on Facebook.