Mexican corn on the cob is becoming quite well-known outside of Mexico. Less well known—though equally delicious (plus easier to handle)—are esquites (pronounced es-KEE-tehs), or corn kernels off the cob, cooked and condimented in their own special way. Both of these dishes are most often eaten as a snack inside their country of origin, but esquites in particular make a great side dish to grilled meats or plain-ish baked or fried meat or fish. What follows is a basic version; don´t miss the variations below the recipe that give ideas of how to personalize your esquites to match the occasion or go well with the other dishes you are serving.
- 6 ears of tender corn (maize)—choose white corn for a more authentic esquites experience
- 2 tablespoons of good quality pork lard, bacon grease, or cooking oil
- ½ of a medium-sized white or purple onion, diced
- 1 fresh jalapeño or poblano chile pepper (or more, to taste), seeded and diced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons freshly-squeezed Mexican lime juice
- 1 cup sour cream, Mexican crema, mayonnaise, or a combination of these ingredients
- 2/3 cup shredded or crumbled aged cheese (such as Mexican Cotija, queso añejo, or Parmesan)
Using a very sharp knife and lots of caution, cut the kernels of corn off the cobs.
Heat the lard, bacon grease, or oil in a large skillet. Add the corn kernels, diced onion, and diced chile pepper. Sautee, stirring frequently, for about 20 minutes, or until the corn is cooked and the vegetables are tender, but not browned. If the mixture gets too dry, add a few tablespoons of water or chicken broth. Stir in the salt and lime juice.
Spoon your hot esquites into individual bowls. Top each with a dollop of cream or mayo and a spoonful of cheese. Eat with a spoon.
Variations on Esquites
If you can get your hands on some fresh epazote, chopped a handful of leaves and add to the mixture just a minute or so before you turn the heat off. Epazote is often used in esquites in Mexico, and it adds a wonderfully authentic rustic flavor to this dish.
Swap out the cream or mayo for whipped cream cheese. Make sure to have it at room temperature when using so that it will melt over the corn. Use plain cream cheese or choose a flavored version. No whipped cream cheese in your fridge? Whip the traditional stuff with an electric mixture.
For the authentic Mexican street food experience, serve your esquites in disposable cups and eat with a plastic spoon. Add some powdered chile pepper (such as chile piquin) to the mixture, or have it available for each person to add to taste to their individual portions.
Esquites are often made boiled instead of sautéed. Use only half of the fat, and cook the ingredients in about a quart (one liter) of water or chicken broth. Serve each portion with some of the cooking liquid.
Feeling super adventurous? Boil your esquites with chicken feet, as is popular in some places in Mexico. Submerge the chicken feet into boiling water for a few seconds, then use a towel to help you pull the skin off of each one. Place peeled feet, corn, onion, and chile pepper into a quart (liter) or so of chicken broth and cook until tender. Increase the amount of salt to taste. Serve one chicken´s foot in each bowl of esquites.
With just an added ingredient or two, you can flavor your Mexican corn to agree with the season or complement your main dish. The possibilities are endless; here are a few to get your own imagination primed.
Mexican Herbs: Add a teaspoon each of dried oregano and dried epazote, plus ¼ to ½ teaspoon of ground cumin, to the mixture at the same time as the salt and lime juice. Spoon on cream or mayo and cheese as usual.
Cilantro Celebration: Sprinkle a generous handful of fresh chopped cilantro (leaves and stems) over each portion. Top with sour cream, crema, or whipped cream cheese.
Pesto Paradise: Add a little of your favorite pesto to the esquites together with the salt and lime juice. Add the dollop of cream or mayo, then sprinkle a little Italian herb mix (dried oregano, rosemary, and basil) and grated Parmesan cheese on top.
Mustard Marvel: Combine three parts mayo to one part of prepared mustard (yellow, brown, Dijon, or your favorite). Top each portion of esquites with a dollop of this mixture, then sprinkle on some dried or finely chopped fresh herbs of your choice (thyme, dill, oregano, basil, etc.)
How to Use Leftover Esquites
I have found that it is very rare to have esquites left over, since they are just so addictively good. Theoretically, however, leftovers could be used to advantage in the following ways:
Added to rice or scrambled eggs.
Sprinkled over any salad
Added to a soup or stew
Mixed with rajas de poblano (poblano chile strips with cream)