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Steam or Boil Corn?

by
author image Kim Joyce
Kim Joyce has been a journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in healthy foods and environmental health. She also served as communications director for the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges and production editor for Scholars Press. Joyce holds a B.A. in environmental studies and analysis, as well as an M.F.A. in creative writing from California State University, Chico.
Steam or Boil Corn?
Ears of corn steaming in a pot. Photo Credit yuliang11/iStock/Getty Images

Corn on the cob is one of the best eating pleasures of summer. Cooking up good quality sweet corn is simple and quick. Steaming fresh, even frozen ears of corn is the quickest way to cook them and also preserves more nutrients than boiling. If you don’t have a corn steamer, improvise by placing a standard steamer basket opened flat and fully expanded into the bottom of a deep soup pot with a tight-fitting lid.

Preserving Nutrients

Water is essential to vegetables and fruits from the first spring stirrings of new growth through harvest, but it’s no friend when it comes time for cooking. Most nutrients in fruit and vegetables are water-soluble, so any cooking process that involves contact with water can leach out or deplete vitamins and minerals; the longer the cooking and the greater the water contact, the more nutrients are lost. General rules of thumb when cooking fruits and vegetables include the following: Use the smallest amount of water possible, cover the pot with a lid and cook for the shortest time possible. Cut vegetables into same-sized pieces to encourage even cooking.

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Steamed Corn

Wash and shuck your corn, removing all silks. Cut each ear into halves or thirds, hatever size your steamer can best accommodate. Follow the instructions for your particular steamer. Perforated steamer pans will cook corn more quickly. If you’re improvising with a soup pot and steamer basket, add about 2 inches of water to the pot, but make sure the water doesn’t reach the base of the basket. If you’ll be steaming frozen corn on the cob, fully thaw the ears before steaming them. Add corn to the pot, with the various pieces oriented as vertically as possible. Cover the soup pot and bring the water to a boil. Steam for 4 or 5 minutes and serve immediately.

Steaming Corn on a Grill

If you’ll be grilling anyway, you also can steam corn right on the grill. There are a number of different approaches, seasoning and grilling corn right in the husk is the greenest approach. Most people, though, husk and clean their corn then wrap each ear in tin foil for the steaming process – which takes considerably longer than stove-top steaming, from 15 to 30 minutes depending on the tenderness of the corn.

High-Nutrition Alternatives

If you happen to have a bumper crop of corn and are getting tired of corn on the cob, there are other ways to cook fresh sweet corn that retain maximum levels of both taste and nutrients. But you will have to cut the corn kernels off the cob first. Stir-frying a pan of summer vegetables is quick and ideal for retaining nutrients because even a minimal amount of cooking oil prevents water-soluble nutrients from migrating. Stir-fried vegetables also retain their color, texture and flavor well. Lightly steam corn kernels before incorporating them into summer salads. Add them uncooked to light soups, casseroles, soups and stews, which retain most nutrients otherwise lost in cooking.

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