Summer Stars Corn at Pican
Pican’s executive chef Jerome Fressinier shares a recipe for maque choux, a corny creation that’s essentially creamy corn succotash just in time for summer.
Maque choux is really creamy corn succotash but sounds so much fancier by its French name.
Photo by Lori Eanes
Sample some of the heritage Southern dishes at Oakland’s Picán, and it can come as a surprise that the man behind them is not from bourbon country.
In fact, executive chef Jerome Fressinier is originally from France, near Cognac, where the native cuisine is slow and soulful, sure, but doesn’t usually include maize—a crop often reserved for feeding livestock, not impressing dressed-up diners sipping sidecars and Sazeracs.
After more than 25 years of cooking in the United States, however, Fressinier is a corn convert. “I’ve been cornified,” he said with a smile in his charming French accent. “Corn is the gold of the Americas that Columbus came for.”
Fressinier is not far off. A multibillion-dollar dietary staple originally cultivated in Mexico, corn here is treasured from Kansas to Argentina. Picked at their peak and delivered to market with the stalks still damp, fat ears of golden yellow, milky white and bicolor sweet corn are simple bliss. Every part of the plant can be used—kernels for food and flour, husks for tamales, juices for sweetening, and starches for thickening. Even corn smut, huitlacoche, is a delicacy. And, of course, corn is a keystone of Southern cooking—from cornbread, creamed corn, and hominy, to the bourbon in an old fashioned cocktail.
Come July, when local sweet corn is at its showy, sugary best, Fressinier takes full advantage. “In summer, local corn is so sweet that we juice it, strain it, and reduce it to a crème anglaise,” said Fressinier. “We take cross sections of the cob to make ‘daisies’ and poach them in the juices. And corn silk! Dredged in cornstarch and fried, corn silk dissolves into a flavor that smells and tastes of green, fresh corn in the sun.”
Fressinier recommends looking for bright green husks and plump, tightly packed, sugary kernels from the stem to the tip of the ear. Ideally, fresh corn should be transported home in a cooler and eaten within a day of purchase.
Try it in maque choux, the Southern-style cooked-corn salad with a French name, that Fressinier calls a sort of “creamy succotash.” The dish works equally well as a main or side for grilled or roasted meat, fish or poultry.
Picán, 2295 Broadway, Oakland, 510-834-1000, www.PicanRestaurant.com.
Picán’s Maque Choux
4 ounces unsalted butter
8 ounces Vidalia onion, diced
4 ounces red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound sweet corn kernels
4 ounces Chardonnay wine
8 ounces heavy cream
1/4 ounce fresh thyme, de-stemmed and chopped
1 ounce Italian parsley, chopped
1 ounce basil, de-stemmed and sliced into chiffonade strips
1 ounce green onion, sliced
1 ounce smoked habanero pepper sauce
2 ounces dehydrated okra tossed in Andouille spices (optional and found at specialty shops)
Brown the butter in saucepan over medium-high heat; keep the pan gently in motion until tiny golden bubbles appear. Reduce the heat to medium. Add onion and a pinch of salt and cook until translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the bell pepper and cook for additional 2 to 3 minutes.
Clear a small area in middle of pan and add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir garlic into the vegetables to combine. Deglaze the pan with wine and reduce until most of the wine has evaporated. Add the corn kernels, cream, and habanero pepper sauce. Simmer until sauce thickens. Off heat, add the chopped thyme, green onion, parsley and basil.
Plate immediately, dividing into four portions. Top each with optional okra if desired.