When I first moved to Brooklyn there was only one fancy restaurant in my immediate neighborhood. It was called The New Prospect Cafe and it was on Flatbush, across the street from where the Jamaican Patty place used to be. With its small seasonal menu, it was a harbinger of Brooklyn’s culinary future. When I could scrape together enough money to eat there, I liked to order their catfish entrée because they served it with a side of corn pudding. I was obsessed with this corn pudding. They would not let me order it by itself, no matter how much I begged, but I did harass them into giving me the recipe….or rather a list of ingredients that were in it. When I tried to make it at home it did not turn out at all like theirs. My obsession grew. I flipped through the index of every cookbook that I owned and through the summer issues of the hundreds of cooking magazines that I still hoard looking for corn pudding recipes. This was, obviously, before the internet made this sort of research easy. I came up with three recipes and tried them all. By far the most delicious recipe included a wide variety of ingredients that I just do not eat..like canned cream of corn soup. I was discouraged.
Recently, for the first time in many years, I decided to try making corn pudding again. In my fridge, I had about a cup and a half seasoned milk left over from making a potato, leek and fennel gratin (you parboil the vegetables with thyme in milk and then use only some of that milk to bake the gratin). I also had corn, yellow bell pepper and leeks. My plan had been to make corn chowder, but then the thought of corn pudding crossed my mind. I realized that I am a much better cook now than I was 13 years ago. I could imagine exactly how to make the basic list of fresh ingredients that the chef of The New Prospect Cafe had handed me into something that would be rich and delicious without using a bunch of processed crap. My confidence was boosted further by the fact that one can now access HUNDREDS of corn pudding recipes on-line. I found a recipe on the NPR sight that looked like it would create a good custard and crust and adapted it so that it would have the savory flavour that I was after.
I am very, very pleased with this recipe. It is a good way to use up your seasoned milk if you have made a gratin but I will write the recipe assuming that you are just using regular milk. The NPR article that I adapted this recipe from points out also that corn pudding is a good way to use end of the season corn, or corn that is not totally fresh. It will be baked into a creamy, sweet custard thus restoring its former youth and glory while highlighting its mature flavour!
- 9 Tablespoons butter
- 1 and 1/2 cup whole milk OR 3/4 cups heavy cream
- a few sprigs of fresh thyme or a few pinches of dry
- 2 large, or 4 small leeks
- a bit more butter or some bacon grease
- 1 yellow bell pepper (green, red or spicy would all work well too)
- 5 ears corn, husked
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup and 2 Tablespoons flour (I used bob’s red mill gluten-free all-purpose flour)
- salt to taste
- black pepper to taste
- cayenne pepper to taste
- 8 large eggs
- Preheat the oven to 350. Put the butter in an 9×12 glass baking dish or (preferably) divide it between two cast iron skillets. Put the pan(s) into the oven to melt the butter.
- If you are using milk, put it and the thyme (and any other flavouring that you would like) in a very heavy bottomed sauce pan over high heat. Keep an eye on it. When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and let it simmer and reduce. You can go do other things but check in on your milk every once in a while to scrape the bottom of the pot or whisk out any lumps. You are reducing it by half. If you are using the heavy cream you can skip this step…just through some thyme into it!
- Cut the green ends off of the leeks and reserve them for soup stock. Slice the white part of the leeks in half lengthwise and wash them thoroughly. Go stir the milk.
- Set the halves, flat side down on a cutting board and slice the leeks into very thin half moons. Stir the milk.
- Heat the extra butter or bacon grease in a skillet and saute the leeks over medium heat until they are soft and beginning to turn golden. Place the leeks in a very large bowl.
- While the leeks are cooking seed and dice the bell pepper and add them to the bowl with the leeks. Stir the milk.
- Using a sharp knife, cut the corn off of the cobs and then use the knife to scrape every last bit of corn off of the cob. Reserve the cobs for soup stock! Stir the milk (it might be done by now).
- Using a food processor or blender process the corn so that it is mostly pureed. Some whole kernels are good! Put all of the corn into the bowl with the leeks and peppers.
- The milk should be reduced down to about 3/4 cups by now. Discard any twigs from the thyme and add the milk to the corn, leeks and peppers.
- Add the flour and sugar to the milk and vegetables and combine totally.
- Season the mixture with salt, black pepper and cayenne. You will need to add quite a bit of salt to counteract the sweetness of the vegetables and sugar. I highly recommend that you do not shy away from the cayenne. The goal is not to make a spicy dish, but cayenne is what saves this kind of rich, sweet, salty American soul food from being boring (in my opinion). If you are using gluten-free flour mix please note that you will detect in the raw batter an unpleasant flavour from the garbanzo bean flour in the bobs red mill mix. Its okay! It will mellow out and disappear with cooking!
- When you are satisfied with the seasoning, lightly beat the eggs and combine them with the corn batter.
- Take your pans out of the oven and swirl the butter around in them so that the bottom and sides are well coated. Add the melted butter to the batter and give it a few swift stirs. Pour the batter in to the prepared pan(s) and bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until the pudding is set and has a golden crust.