Recipe Spotlight

Esquites: The Smoky Corn Salad You Can Char on the Stove

At once smoky, creamy, bright, and salty, this salad is a late-summer essential.

Published Aug. 15, 2023.

During the long, late-summer days of corn's peak season, I’ll eat it any which way—as cachapas, as risotto, simply boiled and topped with chili-lime salt

But in my opinion, esquites, Mexican street corn salad, is king. In esquites, charred kernels of corn are tossed or layered with with rich, tangy crema; salty cotija cheese; chili powder; and a generous squeeze of lime. At once smoky, creamy, bright, and salty, it’s the ultimate dish to bring to a barbecue or serve aside a light summer dinner.

Best of all, when my colleague Lan Lam created her recipe for the dish, she developed a method that doesn’t require a grill, making it even easier to whip up a batch whenever you can get your hands on some fresh summertime corn.

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Charring Corn on the Stovetop

Caramelized, bronzed kernels of corn are one of the best parts of esquites—and you don’t need a grill to attain them.

In her recipe, Lan heats a tablespoon of oil in a nonstick skillet (well-seasoned carbon steel would work too) until it shimmers and then adds just half the corn, ensuring that each kernel can have full contact with the surface of the pan.

Then comes the critical part. Instead of stirring the corn as it cooks, Lan covers the skillet and doesn’t touch the kernels for a full 3 minutes, at which point the kernels may even start popping (hence the lid). When she removes the skillet from the heat, the undersides of the kernels have taken on deep, flavorful char.

Repeat with the rest of the corn, and you’ll have a full batch of caramelized kernels in less time that it would take to heat the grill.

Seasoning Esquites

From there, all that’s left to do is toss the corn with its signature seasonings.

Because Lan already used a skillet to toast the corn, she uses the same pan to sauté some garlic and bloom some chili powder.

She adds that mixture; along with cotija, cilantro, scallions, and a creamy, slightly spicy lime dressing; to the corn. After a quick toss, the salad is complete.


Esquites (Mexican Corn Salad)

Make this bright, creamy charred-corn salad without firing up the grill. 
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What to Serve with Esquites

Esquites is versatile and easy to throw together to round out a light summer dinner. Try it alongside any of the below: But know that this salad’s bright, sweet smokiness will always steal the show.


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