Spring and summer allow corn, one of chefs’ favorite ingredients, to shine in a variety of dishes.
By Jennifer Bradley Franklin
It can be made into fabric, fuel or fodder, but the reason so many people celebrate this crop during the spring and summer seasons is more appetizing. Corn is an ingredient that’s both nutritious and diverse in its delicious uses. It’s the plant credited with sustaining our country’s early settlers; the Creek, Cherokee and Hopi Native Americans considered maize a gift of divine origin. It is now the most widely grown crop in America.
Corn is actually a grass (similar to wheat, rice, barley and oats), but because it is naturally gluten-free, it’s a popular grain alternative for those with a gluten intolerance. Also called maize or “Zea mays,” corn has a wide range of tastes that allow for its use in dishes from the simple to the intricate—from Southern grits to Italian polenta to ice cream. During warm-weather months, the sweet and savory kernels move out of supporting roles and take top billing on plates from breakfast all the way through to dessert.
Sea Island Chef de Cuisine Matthew Lafountain originally hails from Indiana, a state known for its corn production. “Corn has always been a big part of my diet, from corn on the cob to popcorn,” he explains. When sourcing ingredients for the resort’s Colt & Alison restaurant, the product goes through especially thorough scrutiny. “It is such a versatile grain, and it’s important to me to have on the menu because I think that it brings a level of comfort to our members and guests.”
In keeping with Sea Island’s efforts to use regional products when possible, Lafountain orders bicolor corn from Wilkinson-Cooper Produce out of Belle Glade, Fla. The company’s supply is sourced from farms across the state. When available, Long & Scott Farms’ sweet corn, grown in Zellwood, Fla., is another local favorite that is at its peak from the end of April through mid-June.
Corn’s near-universal appeal is evident on menus throughout Sea Island, as it’s a favorite of chefs who adeptly weave it into appetizers, entrées and even desserts. At Colt & Alison at The Lodge, diners will find rich creamed corn that can accompany any main course. While the canned variety is ingrained in many a childhood memory, Colt & Alison’s version uses fresh kernels, giving the dish a bright yet familiar flavor. Other plates that highlight this adaptable ingredient include grilled corn salsa that is served with a marinated hanger steak alongside chimichurri. Corn also pairs well with seafood in one of the restaurant’s popular starters, sweet corn bisque with butter-poached crab and white sturgeon caviar.
At Sea Island’s Oak Room, traditional shrimp and grits receive a sophisticated upgrade with Georgia shrimp,stone-ground sweet corn grits, tomato, garlic and chives. It’s a quintessential Southern recipe that’s elevated by artful presentation and farm-fresh ingredients. “This is an amazing, yet simple dish that will continue to be on the menu,” Lafountain says.
Perhaps the greatest testament to corn’s ever-present place at Sea Island is the famous and frequently requested corn muffin. The buttery cake combines creamed corn, cheddar cheese and chopped bacon for a two-bite, sweet and savory delicacy. Available at all of Sea Island’s restaurants, the muffins have been offered at the resort “for as long as anyone can remember,” according to Executive Pastry Chef Cortney Harris. She now has a hand in making the treats in the bakeshop at The Cloister. While the recipe is frequently requested, guests and members would agree that there’s something special about the resort’s freshly baked treats. Those who want to extend the flavor experience at home may order a few—or even a few dozen—from the concierge.
Because of its many uses, corn is now easily found just about everywhere; but this season, be sure it’s on your plate.