Evenly cooked, well-charred corn
Flavorful dressing that clings to each kernel
Fresh, vibrant green garnishes
If you’re enjoying grilled corn only with butter and salt, you’re missing out. Take just one bite of Mexican street corn, called elote, and you’ll know why it has become wildly popular in the United States. A charred ear of corn is slathered with rich, tangy crema; coated with salty cotija cheese; sprinkled with chili powder; and finished with a squeeze of lime. This smoky, creamy, bright, salty cob is one satisfying snack.
Some vendors offer elote in salad form (esquites), with charred kernels layered or tossed with the garnishes. You get the ideal ratio of flavors and textures in every bite but with the convenience of a fork. I wanted to find a way to make this flavor-packed side dish even when I’m not firing up the grill.
The broiler seemed a good place to start since its intense radiant heat is similar to that of a grill. I placed six ears of corn on a baking sheet and broiled them on the highest oven rack, rotating them every few minutes. Unfortunately, only the rows of kernels closest to the broiler browned; the rest turned dry and leathery. I thought that if I cut the kernels off the cob and spread them into an even layer, more of them might char, so I gave it a try. While more kernels browned, nearly all were overcooked. Because they were farther from the heating element, it had taken them much longer to develop any color.
It was time to try the stove. It seemed like cutting the kernels off the cob was still the way to go since it allows more kernels to come in contact with the heat. Plus, cut kernels release a starchy, sugary liquid that, in theory, would help with browning.
I grabbed a nonstick skillet and cooked the kernels in a little oil over high heat, without stirring them. The kernels touching the pan’s surface charred beautifully and those in the middle were plump and perfectly cooked, but those on top remained raw and starchy. I was fine with some of the kernels not being charred so long as they were tender and plump, but what if I split the corn into two batches? This would put more kernels in contact with the hot skillet, and fewer kernels in the pan might lead to more even cooking.
I heated some oil in a fresh skillet, added half the kernels, and covered the skillet to trap steam. After 3 minutes, the corn on the bottom was perfectly charred and the rest was juicy and tender. After repeating the technique with the remaining kernels, I had plenty of charred corn to give my salad its signature flavor.
It was time to dress the dish. Mexican crema is traditional, but a combination of mayonnaise, sour cream, and lime juice produced a similar creamy tang and clung even better to the corn. To give my salad heat and bite, I stirred in some sliced serrano chile, chili powder, and garlic that I’d toasted in the empty skillet after cooking the corn. Finally, once the mixture had cooled, I tossed in cilantro, scallions, and some salty crumbled cotija cheese. The next time I’m craving my favorite way to eat corn, I can make a batch in less time than it takes to fire up the grill.
Keys to Success
Evenly cooked, well-charred cornCutting the kernels off the cob releases starch- and sugar-rich juice, which encourages browning. Covering the skillet and letting the corn cook undisturbed allows the kernels in contact with the skillet to char while the remainder cook through thanks to trapped steam.
Flavorful dressing that clings to each kernelThe rich, tangy combination of mayonnaise, sour cream, and lime juice coats each corn kernel.
Fresh, vibrant green garnishesA brief rest lets the corn cool, which keeps the sliced serrano chile and chopped cilantro vibrant green and fresh-tasting when they're added to the salad.