Introduction: Homage to Nero Wolfe' - 'Murder Is Corny' Roasted Corn Recipe
I love good food, simple recipes with few but quality ingredients and detective novels, the classics, authors such as Dorothy L. Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ngaio Marsh, Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammet, Agatha Christie... I enjoy their skillful crafting of a mystery but I also appreciate the unique personality of the Private Eye or Detective. Men and woman who, along with an amazing capacity for critical thought, possess a personal code of ethics and eccentricities of behaviour that bind them together in a common thread. This whether in the guise of a seemingly nosy, old lady, a titled, dilettante sleuth or a hard-boiled shamus.
Not all private eyes however, like Spade and Phil Marlowe live out of their offices and consume bad liquor or are thinking machines like Sherlock Holmes who survives on caffeine and cocaine, no, a surprising number of them are gourmets, who appreciate a good cook and fine wines. This even includes those who, though hot on the trail, will put down their magnifying glass and take up the skillet themselves. In the former category I'd class: Lord Peter Wimsey, Miss Jane Marple and Nick and Nora Charles. In the latter, there are the fastidious cooks and hands-on chefs: Hercule Poirot, Perry Mason and of course by far the epitome of epicurean detectives; Rex Stout's amazing creation, Nero Wolfe.
It is only lately that I have come across Nero Wolfe and in particular the TV Series (2001 to 2002) which played for 27 fantastic episodes with an amazing ensemble cast headed by Maury Chaykin, Timothy Hutton, Colin Fox and Bill Smitrovich. I liked everything about it from the screenplay and interpretation, to the costumes, sets, music and the stylish title illustrations and design. (I include 3 screen shots for fan purposes above)
With Nero Wolfe, Rex Stout took the gastronome sleuth to a whole new level, with each case playing out against a background of cordon bleu meals and vociferous arguments with his chef Fritz. Like Holmes, Wolfe is a person of incredible self-belief, he will brook no argument as to his ability and opinions. His recipes, I'm thinking of 40 minute scrambled eggs in particular, demand a similar blind faith from the reader too.
One case; 'Murder is Corny' hinges upon Wolfe's fine understanding of the optimum time for harvesting sweet corn:
“Shucked and boiled in water, sweet corn is edible and nutritious; roasted in the husk in the hottest possible oven for forty minutes, shucked at the table, and buttered and salted, nothing else, it is ambrosia. No chef's ingenuity and imagination have ever created a finer dish.”
So here's my tribute to Nero Wolfe and my confidence in what seemingly is a recipe for disaster or rather the possibility of a very burnt offering.
The freshest organic , home-grown and local corn cobs you can get
Raw organic butter
Step 1: Not So Easy Here to Get Hold of Corn That Isn't Earmarked for Cattle
The first time I ever made this recipe I was very happy to be using sweet corn which was free, gratis and for nothing from the box of debris I get from my local organic shop.
The reason for 'ambrosia' ending up in the trash being, that in rural France, people don't really go for sweet corn on the husk. Two decades ago when I inadvertently mentioned another roasted favourite of ours, I was told unceremoniously that: 'parsnips are for pigs'. Similarly a great percentage of maize grown in this country is processed in situ at harvest, with the whole plant finely chopped up and carried off to be made into Winter silage for cattle. Times change however and not only are parsnips now sold at our organic shop and people buy and eat them but French friends even recommend them to me.
When I was first considering making Wolfe's corn recipe, I was thinking that at that high a temperature, if I ended up with burnt corn, at least we would not be out of pocket. I should have known though that Nero Wolfe was right, after all, in his books Rex Stout has him constantly reminding us of the fact.
Like Holmes with his case hinging on the depth parsley sinks into butter on a hot day, Wolfe understands the science involved, in that the corn has to be exactly at the correct level of moisture on picking so as to roast and steam to perfection.
Ambrosia was/is the right description for this dish of roasted corn.
Sadly though when I went back to the shop, there was no corn to be had, the season being so short. So I've had to wait until this year to make it again. Even so there were only 10 ears on offer and I bagged 2, which at Euros 1.40 a piece is not surprising.
Step 2: The So Simple But Truly Succulent Recipe
For this recipe to work you will need to buy corn just as it was picked from the stalk, complete with the husk and silk. This forms the natural envelope which keeps in the sweetness and moisture whilst the corn steam-roasts at these high temperatures.
I cooked mine at 450°F - 230°C although I have read of other Nero Wolfe aficionados heating their ovens to 550°F - 290°C!
However, I find that the former temperature works well and anyway we have a woodcooker and hand-saw our wood so there's no point in making more work than is needed. After 40 minutes you just follow Wolfe's advice, add butter and sink your teeth into..ambrosia.
From the images above I deduce that two people have just eaten Nero Wolfe's delicious roasted corn.
For the ultimate experience of Nero Wolfe's recipe, I have now decided to grow my own and therefore have the corn off the stock and into my oven in less than 5 minutes - How's that for homage Nero?
Participated in the