- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2004

I’ll never forget my first Fourth of July barbecue. It was 1973, and I was chef at La Tour in Indianapolis. We ate grilled burgers and hot dogs, of course, accompanied by a classic potato salad slathered in mayonnaise. The meal was delicious. But, especially with that potato salad, it was so heavy that I felt like going to sleep instead of watching fireworks.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love potato salad, both the familiar American kind and my favorite warm Austrian version with vinaigrette dressing. But I prefer to eat it when the weather is cold and you need good, solid, stomach-filling food to keep you warm.

So please let me suggest an alternative. It’s a perfect companion to the celebration, because it’s not only light and delicious but also because its all-American history actually predates the Pilgrims.

I’m talking about succotash. Based on a mixture of sweet corn and fresh shell beans, the dish takes its name from msikwatach, a Narragansett tribal word for boiled corn kernels. Add not only the essential lima beans or fava beans but also maybe some roasted red bell pepper, diced sun-ripened tomato and even diced zucchini, and you have the perfect, colorful, flavorful expression of summer’s bounty. It’s all about the best produce your market has to offer, with corn as the star.

Not being able to resist adding my own twists, I make succotash with kernels I cut from grilled corn on the cob. Grilling caramelizes some of the corn’s natural sugars, giving the dish even richer flavor. It’s so delicious and easy that I like to make extra. Besides serving it as a side dish, I’ll spoon it atop slices of Italian bread rubbed with garlic, brushed with olive oil, and toasted on the grill, to make fantastic bruschetta. Or I’ll replace the butter in the following recipe with olive oil and serve the succotash cold the next day as a salad, maybe topped with grilled chicken or steak.

You’ll find it easier nowadays to start with good corn, thanks to widespread super-sweet hybrids that don’t turn starchy quickly after picking. Nevertheless, you’ll ensure the best flavor and texture if you check the corn before you buy for signs of freshness. The husks should look firm and brightly colored rather than limp, the silk inside light golden rather than dark, and the cut ends of the stalks moist and white rather than withered and brown.

To keep the corn from drying out, soak the ears in ice water for an hour before cooking. That gives you plenty of time to build your fire. Grill the corn and bell pepper first, then assign someone to finish the recipe in the kitchen while you tend to the burgers, dogs, steaks, ribs, chicken, or whatever else your own Independence Day demands.


Serves 6

4 ears white corn, soaked in ice water for 1 hour

1 red bell pepper

1 cup shelled fresh fava beans or lima beans

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 medium stalks celery, pale parts only, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 medium white onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/2 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves

1 bay leaf

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Pinch of cayenne

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Build a fire in an outdoor grill or preheat a broiler.

Strip off the husks and remove the silk from the ears of corn. Cook the corn on the grill or under the broiler, turning it frequently with tongs, until the kernels are uniformly golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. At the same time, cook the bell pepper on the grill or over the broiler, turning it frequently, until its skin is evenly blistered and browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer the bell pepper to a heavy-duty sealable plastic bag to cool for about 5 minutes. Set the corn aside until it is cool enough to handle.

Steadying the stem end of an ear of corn on a stable work surface and holding it with one hand by its tip, slanting down and away from you, use a sharp knife to cut off the kernels close to the cob in strips, cutting down and away from you and rotating the ear slightly after each cut. Transfer the kernels to a mixing bowl and repeat with the remaining ears of corn.

With your fingertips and, if necessary, a paper towel, remove the charred skin from the bell pepper. With a small, sharp knife, carefully slit open the pepper, taking care to avoid any steam, and remove and discard the stem, seed cluster, veins and any stray seeds. Cut the pepper into 1/4-inch dice and add to the corn.

Bring a small pan of water to a boil and fill a mixing bowl with ice cubes and water.

Add the fava beans or lima beans to the boiling water and cook them until just tender, about 2 minutes. Drain and immediately transfer them to the ice water, leaving them to chill for about 2 minutes. Drain well. If using fava beans, peel off and discard their leathery skins to reveal the pale green beans inside. Set aside.

In a heavy saute pan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the celery, onion and garlic and saute gently, stirring frequently, until tender but not browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the brown sugar, thyme, bay leaf, lemon juice, cayenne and salt and pepper to taste and continue to cook for 3 minutes more. Stir in the corn kernels and cook for 3 minutes more. Stir in the fava beans or lima beans and cook until the mixture is uniformly heated through, about 2 minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

(Chef Wolfgang Puck’s new TV series, “Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class,” airs Sundays and Wednesdays on the Food Network. Write Wolfgang Puck in care of Tribune Media Services Inc., 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY. 14207.)

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide