Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Test Kitchen: Mini Corn Cakes with Seared Salmon

This month's Food and Wine Magazine Test Kitchen really worked out well for the summer. It was a close vote, but more than 40 percent of you said you wanted me to make the Mini Corn Cakes with Seared Salmon recipe from the magazine's June issue.

When I was flipping through the magazine and saw the words "mini corn cakes," I knew I had to put this up for a vote because I've loved corn since I was a little kid. And even though my teachers told me that corn wasn't nutritious because you can't digest it (another weird thing about nature), I still loved eating it.

The recipe is from the chef Francis Mallmann who cooked around South America and now likes to cook with a wood fire for intense heat. I didn't have a wood fire, so I just had to crank up my electric stove top.

What I didn't realize after reading the recipe more carefully was that the corn cakes are pan fried, just like crab cakes. I guess I should have realized that, but for some reason I thought it was baked. Anywho, here's how the testing went this past weekend.

You can find the complete recipe on the Food and Wine magazine site here.

Just a reminder that I test the recipes from the magazine by cutting all the ingredients in half because I'm the Single Guy and don't need that much food. The recipe called for six ears of corn, so I bought three from the store. They are so cheap now, just 50 cents each. Most times I see white corn, which is really sweet, although the magazine probably used yellow corn for the color. You can use what you can find, but I found that I didn't really need all three ears. So if you're following the recipe, you could probably get away with one or two ears less than what it asks for.

After cooking the corn, I had to cut it off the cobb and then create the batter for the cakes. It was really super easy with minimal ingredients.

Like I said earlier, I had to pan fry the corn cakes. The batter with the corn kernels is a bit watery, so it was hard to really create a shape. And what was even harder was flipping the cakes.

Even though this isn't deep frying, I'm still not a fan of all this frying. I just feel it makes everything oily, especially my kitchen floor from all the oil splatter. Another thing I realized: the recipe calls for a super hot pan to do the frying, so you run the risk of burning the cakes AND the corn can actually POP like popcorn so be careful that it doesn't splatter on you. Use a splatter guard. I didn't only because I wanted to take pictures.

After I was done with the cakes (and placed them in the oven to stay warm like the recipe suggests), I seared the salmon. Mallmann's technique calls for searing just one side and leaving the other side raw. Also, he instructs you to remove the skin so that all you have is the meat to sear. I'm not sure why he got rid of the skin because I know Japanese cooking likes the crispy skin. I can go either way.

Here's the finished dish. Pretty easy to make although a bit messy with the frying of the corn cakes. My dish isn't as dressed up as the Food & Wine shot above, but I wasn't about to buy a bunch of parsley JUST FOR GARNISH!

My tips and warnings about this recipe:

  1. You don't need as many ears of corn to get the cups of kernels needed. Play it by ear. :P
  2. Watch out for the splattering, especially the popping corn. Use a splatter guard.
  3. Slicing the seared salmon can be difficult if you don't cut it the right way. I didn't, so mines look like a mess. I think maybe it helps to go with the grain? Or better yet, just keep it whole!

Ease of cooking: This was definitely a simple recipe, but I think maybe too simple because I felt the corn cakes needed something more than just milk and flour. Maybe some bread crumbs? It just didn't have enough body. But this is something you can make fast and use very little ingredients.

Taste: The main part of this recipe is the corn cake and while I love corn, and mines did taste fresh and sweet because they were in season, the corn cakes itself tasted like flabby pancakes. There were some crispy parts that I liked, but most places tasted soggy from the oil. As for the salmon, I don't like the suggestion of searing just one side and keeping the other side raw. I don't like fish that's half and half. I want mines either cooked through or served completely raw. This half-way salmon created an odd experience for me. When I bit the roasted part, my mouth was expecting tender moist flesh but got the mushy raw flesh, so overall I couldn't enjoy the dish.

Overall Grade: C+ (mostly because I love corn)

Take a minute to vote for next month's test kitchen with the choices in the poll on the upper right corner.

Previous test kitchens:
Spicy and Sticky Baby Back Ribs
Cabbage, Kielbasa and Rice Soup


Jenster said...

I thought your version looked pretty tasty, too, Ben! I do agree that the salmon sounds weird just being cooked on one side.

I don't care what anyone says about corn not being good for you: I love it, especially off the cob with a light smearing of butter and a dash of salt. It was one of the few vegetables I would eat as a child and I love it to this day. I also love it when it's thrown into a seafood boil and then sprinkled with some Old Bay seasoning.

And I'm sure it's still healthier than some of the "low-fat" and "high fiber" processed foods out there.

foodcreate said...

There something particularly gratifying in a corn! Delicious!

"Thanks for sharing your recipe!

"Join today and enjoy exceptional recipe. Submit your heirloom recipe for all the world to share!


Mrs. L said...

Interesting how this turned out. I thought your presentation looked good and, like you I'm a huge fan of corn. Of to vote for the next test.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Yeah, "soggy" is not the adjective you want to describe your corn cakes. Thanks for the great feedback though.

foodhoe said...

Too bad about the flabby pancake texture, the corncakes looked nicely browned... That's the beauty of you testing these recipes out for us single guy!

Cookie said...

Your salmon doesn't look like a mess at all! It actually looks deliciously blackened on the outside but still rare in the middle, which is just the way I like it. I'm not sure if I can trust myself with frying anything in hot oil so I'll probably stay away from these corn cakes. Looks like I won't be missing out on much anyway!

Carolyn Jung said...

So they don't taste like the corn fritters at E&O Trading Company? Those things are seriously dangerous. You can't eat just one. No way! Though, the ones you made might be a bit more healthful.

Single Guy Ben said...

Looks like there's quite a few corn lovers out there! Carolyn, never tried the corn fritters. They do sound addictive, but also sounds very very deep fried! I will not be rushing to E&O to try them, but good to know they're there. :)

Lisa said...

If I remember correctly, the corn should NOT pop. It means your heat is too high. Don't fry them higher than med high.