I have a confession: Most of the corn I eat is raw, at least from June through August. The juicy pop of the sweet summer kernels is too beautiful to obscure; I saw off the majority from the cob and toss them into salads, or enjoy them with a little bit of lime juice and sprinkling of flake salt. If I want to serve it on the cob as a side to the standard BBQ fare, I’ll run it under the tap and steam it in its husk in the microwave for a few minutes until it’s just hot enough to melt butter. The less I interfere with the corn’s natural flavor, the better.

At least that was my philosophy until I tried our Taiwanese Grilled Corn or, as we call it around the office, “candy apple corn,” inspired by the sticky, shiny rotisserie street corn Christopher Kimball tasted at the Raohe Street Night Market in Taipei. “The long rows of ears were slathered with various coatings, some richly colored and thick, reminding me of corn dogs or candied apples; the corn’s exterior became the main attraction,” he wrote. “This was in keeping with the carnival atmosphere of a Taipei night market, where each brightly lit booth offered culinary entertainment, from cane juice presses and grilled squid to ice-­shaving machines and large tandoor-style ovens for baking pork buns. All that was missing were teenage girls clutching giant teddy bears, blooming onions and fried sticks of butter.”

It certainly sounded enticing, but it would have to be miraculous if it was going make its way into my mostly-raw summer corn repertoire.


The problem with most grilled corn

Most home cooks in America don’t have a rotisserie setup in their backyard, but you can bring the carnival vibes with a simple gas or charcoal grill—just rotate the cobs yourself while brushing on the sauce. But before you start slathering sticky sauces on your golden ears, you need to make sure you have a strong foundation of perfectly grilled corn.

It’s a simple dish that is easy to get wrong. Keep it in the husks and you get steamed corn with no char. Remove the husks before you toss it on the grill and you can end up with burnt, dry kernels. The solution is a hybrid method: Steam the corn in the husks until they’re hot and juicy, then remove the husks and give them a quick kiss of heat over glowing coals or an open flame.

It’s the approach we take with our candy apple corn, only we take things a step further with a sticky, salty, spicy-sweet, umami-packed glaze. The kernels char, adding a touch of smoky bitterness, and the sauce caramelizes—it’s a truly singular bite that hits every one of the five tastes.

So what’s in this sauce, anyway?

We had a few small issues when we set out to recreate the street corn Chris enjoyed in Taipei. For one, there was the problem of translation. “Joan, our guide in Taipei, got some details from the market’s corn vendor, but they were sketchy,” he wrote. “The two main ingredients seemed to be lard and sha cha sauce, the latter consisting of soybean oil, brill fish, dried shrimp, garlic, shallots and chilies.”

Sha cha sauce is difficult to source in the States, so we had to get creative. To replicate the deep umami brought by brill fish and dried shrimp, we use a trio of fermented ingredients: Worcestershire sauce (famous for its funky anchovies), oyster sauce (for its oceanic savoriness), and gochujang (a Korean fermented chili paste that brings a complex savoriness and chili heat). We rounded it out with a hit of tangy rice vinegar, rich, toasted sesame oil, and a few tablespoons of fresh cilantro to give it a fleeting, but intoxicating, herbal aroma.

It truly is the savory, vegetal counterpart to the candy apple. Sticky and enticingly red on the outside; crisp, sweet and juicy on the inside.

Don’t be afraid to get the grill hot

This recipe is meant to be cooked hot and fast. For a gas grill, turn all of the burners to high and heat, covered, for 15 minutes. For charcoal, get a big pile of coals—at least a full chimney, if not a little more—and let heat, covered but with the vents fully open, for five minutes.

Remove only the outermost layers of the husks, and trim away any tassels or silk that’s peeking out over the edge. Then all you have to do is toss the ears on the grill for 15 minutes, rotating every five minutes until the husks are deeply charred and burnt in spots. Remove and let cool on a wire rack for few minutes until they’re touchable, then peel back the husks to reveal perfectly steamed kernels. (You’ll also find that it’s easier to remove the silk after steaming, an added bonus.)

Sauce boldly

I will admit I had a crisis of faith when I peeled back the husks. Obscuring perfectly plump corn with anything felt wrong on a cellular level, but I trusted the process and was rewarded. I slathered on the sauce and returned the corn to the grill, rotating and brushing with additional sauce until the corn was caramelized and charred.

It took a total of seven minutes, which was not long enough to rob the kernels of their juiciness. They were still plump, crisp and sweet, the perfect contrast to the sticky, deeply savory exterior. The fermented oysters and anchovies anchored everything with a deep note of umami, gochujang brought a subtle but ever-building heat and the rice vinegar balanced and brightened.

It made me appreciate the sugary sweetness of summer corn all the more, something I didn’t think was possible. Perhaps its new nickname should be “miracle corn.”


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