Each November, the tiny town of Xmatkuil hosts the annual Yucatan State Fair, a month-long celebration of Yucatecan culture that features bullfights, traditional dancing, woodworking and furniture artisans, livestock displays, piles of flavorful arrachera served on cafeteria-sized plastic trays, t-shirt vendors selling iron-on transfers of cockfights, and a collection of freak show-style booths beckoning visitors with everything from trained howler monkeys to the mysterious “La Mujer Arana,” a curtained room decorated with a huge airbrushed painting of the half-woman, half-spider that I never quite had the guts to view for myself.
Every year, we would wander, wide-eyed at the spectacle, trying helplessly to take it all in and store it deep in our memories, so that we would never, ever forget it. On every slow stroll through the fair, somewhere between buying a belt buckle adorned with the hammered-brass profile of a handsome bullfighter and watching the high-divers drop themselves into impossibly tiny swimming pools full of water, I would stop and purchase an ear of what I came to think of as “street corn” from one of the many roving vendors: Livestock-grade feed corn, smothered in mayonnaise, crumbly, salty cotija cheese, chili powder, and lime, then finished over hot coals until it became all blackened and blistered in parts.
Now that I’m home in Maine, I’ve been looking for a way to capture the essence of that snack in a side dish I can serve alongside tacos and burritos, and I think this version is a winner. We blanch the corn in boiling water, then sear it in a hot skillet to get some satisfying scorch marks. You could also cook it over a grill, if the season is right. Then, we strip it off the cob, and toss it with a tiny bit of silky mayonnaise, butter, smoky chipotle, and feta, a perfectly reasonable substitute for harder-to-find Mexican cotija. The resulting side dish is evocative of both a time in our lives, and a place, that we miss.
- 4 ears of corn on the cob
- 1 teaspoon mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Ground chipotle pepper, to taste
- ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
- Squeeze of lime
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add corn and cook until water comes back to a boil. Immediately remove corn from water, and toast a few ears at a time in a dry skillet, until char marks appear.
- Using a sharp knife, cut kernels from each cob into a large bowl. While corn is still very hot, add mayonnaise, butter, ground chipotle, and feta. Stir well to combine, and taste, Add more chipotle as needed for desired spiciness. Serve with a wedge of lime.