You can buy them fresh or canned. From experience, fresh baby corn are best cooked for about a few minutes to make the centers tender enough while still retaining some crunch. Canned baby corn can be eaten straight from the can.
What is young a.k.a. baby corn? Should we take its name literally to mean that the corn ears are plucked before their time? Yes. Food activists might claim that sounds all wrong — if a single corn can feed a person, where’s the logic in feeding him a dozen baby corns to make him feel full?
I suppose it’s a culture thing. Some cultures don’t eat pork, some don’t beef, we eat corn that weren’t allowed to reach maturity. Baby corn is big in Asia especially in Chinese cooking where it figures prominently. In a paper published by the Washington State University, growing baby corn is described as follows:
There are two different methods for producing baby corn. In the first method, baby corn is the primary crop, and a variety is selected and planted to produce only baby corn. In the second method, baby corn is the secondary crop in a planting of sweet corn or field corn, and the variety is selected to produce either sweet corn or field corn.
In the first method, the color, taste and texture of the corn depends on the corn variety planted. Whether the corn reaches your kitchen fresh or in a can, the quality depends on the corn variety. In short, fresh or canned, baby corns are not created equal.
But between fresh and canned, which is better? The fresh ones, of course. Natural color, natural taste, no added sodium. The drawback is the added step of cooking them separately before throwing them into a stir fried dish. That drawback is the big plus of canned baby corn. Just open the can, drain the corn and that’s it. Plus, of course, the fact that the canned variety is available in almost every grocery store any time of the year.
Not that all canned baby corn are equal in every aspect, however. Like I said earlier, depending on the corn variety chosen when they were grown, there are bound to be differences in flavor, color and texture. And, with some brands, the baby corn are large, about three inches long; with others, the baby corn are no more than two and a half inches in length. Since canned food go by net weight, you get less number of baby corn if they are large. So, if you customarily serve them whole and you’re particular about everyone getting an equal share, with the larger baby corn, each person will get less number of baby corn on his plate.
Personally, I don’t care about the size of the baby corn. In Asia, we don’t eat on a per plate basis. Asian dining is family style — all dishes in serving platters or bowls at the center of the table and each person gets how much or how little he wants. And since baby corn is often an ingredient of stir fried dishes, I find it best to cut them in about the same size and shape as they rest of the ingredients — into two portions if they are small or in three portions if they are rather large. In effect, the number of pieces that end up on the serving platter is just about the same.
Some of the recipes with baby corn in the archive: