Compound Butters for Grilled Corn

Summer, meet your new best friend at the grill.

No matter what you’re into grilling during the warm weather months, you’ll find countless ways to use compound butter, and I do hope you’ll try it on my favorite—freshly grilled summer sweet corn.

Oooh, look at that beautiful char!

In the days of my youth, I ate more sweet corn than I can recall. My small, upstate New York town was one of those idyllic, rolling green hills kind of places you read about. The landscape was dotted with dairy farms, and sweet corn was so prolific, it was not unusual at all to see freshly picked ears of it piled high against trees at the side of the road with a sign that said, “for the love of God, please take this corn already.” The grocery store didn’t even order corn in the summer because everyone already had more than they needed.

The down-side of living in one of these pastoral places was that we didn’t have much to do. Many a summer night in my young-adult years, I would gather for a backyard bonfire and corn roast with my cousin, Annie, and a friend, Julie. It was just the three of us most times, and we were not exactly living large. We would fill up two big, galvanized steel buckets—one with cans of cheap beer and a bag of ice, and the other with cold water and as many ears of free corn as we could fit—and we’d spend the night lamenting our town’s lack of interesting options (for anything). The corn was still dressed in its husks, silk and all, and after a good soaking, we would toss it directly onto the bonfire to roast and steam it to perfection. We peeled the charred husks back and used them like a handle as we finished off ear after ear. Little flakes of black, burned-up husks and silk would end up all over us, but do you think we cared? There is nothing that compares to that roast-y flavor and it never occurred to us that we should dress up our fresh summer feast with butter or anything else.

A couple of years later, Annie and I had both moved away from our little town, rarely to return. Julie got married and stayed in town, and the last time I saw her, she was happily raising a family. I don’t miss our small town much (except perhaps in mid-October, when I know the maple trees are turning brilliant shades of rust and red), but I do miss the abundance of sweet corn in the summer. Come to think of it, I equally miss the piles of free zucchini squash, but that will be another post.

Today, when I want to enjoy summer corn (which is always), we “roast” it on the grill. There’s no soaking involved and no charred corn husk getting all over everything, and the flavor of grilled corn, though not quite as intense as the bonfire-roasted corn of those olden days, is still far superior to that of boiled corn. And because I’m all grown up now, I do enjoy putting a flavor spin on my grilled corn, and that’s where the compound butter comes in.

Grilled corn with pesto compound butter

This is a simple way to add a little pizzazz to corn, or whatever else you might be pulling off the grill—fish, shrimp, chicken, steak, burgers or other vegetables. Not grilling? No problem, because compound butter also comes in handy when you need to give a boost of flavor to something you make on the stove. Use it to sauté shrimp or vegetables, liven up a baked potato, melt over cooked pasta or drizzle onto your popcorn. What I love about compound butters is that you can make them in advance, they keep a good long time in the fridge (or freezer), and they afford multiple flavor options when you are serving guests.

Compound butter may sound complicated, but it could not be simpler—soften up a stick of salted butter and stir in the flavors that suit your fancy. Mix in a swirl of olive oil for extra depth of flavor and extended “spreadability.” I will offer up a few compound butter combos, using simple ingredients I already had in my fridge. Mix and match them any way you like. And, by all means, please share your ideas for compound butter flavors and uses, too.


Pesto Compound Butter

1 stick salted butter, slightly softened

2 cloves fresh garlic, very finely minced

Small handful fresh basil leaves, finely snipped or cut into ribbons

1/3 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese (or parm-romano blend)

A few twists freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


Sun-dried Tomato & Feta Compound Butter

1 stick salted butter, slightly softened

2 to 3 Tbsp. sun-dried tomatoes, cut or snipped into very small bits* (see notes)

2 oz. whole milk feta cheese, crumbled and pressed dry

A few twists freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

*Notes – If the sun-dried tomatoes are packed dry, rehydrate them for a few minutes in boiling water, then drain and press out the excess moisture. If they are packed in oil, chop them fine and stir them in as the final ingredient, omitting olive oil.


Vegan Tahini-Soy Compound “Butter”

1 stick dairy-free butter substitute

2 Tbsp. tahini paste

1 tsp. soy or tamari sauce

1/2 tsp. Trader Joe’s Umami seasoning (powdered blend of garlic, mushroom, salt and red pepper)


Chili & Lime Compound Butter

1 stick salted butter, slightly softened

Zest of 1 small organic lime

1/2 tsp. ground chili powder (your favorite, check the sodium)

1/4 tsp. ground cumin

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


Steakhouse Bleu Cheese Compound Butter

1 stick salted butter, slightly softened

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup crumbled bleu cheese

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


Instructions

Press and stir the butter down into a smooth, creamy spread. Add the other ingredients, beginning with those that can be stirred into the butter, and ending with any ingredients that need to be folded in. If you want to keep a few distinguishable bits, such as crumbled cheeses, fold them in at the end.

If you are adding ingredients that are inherently salty, such as hard cheeses or pre-mixed spice blends, you might opt to use unsalted butter to keep the sodium at the right level.

Keep compound butters in tightly sealed bowls in the fridge, or wrap them tightly in two layers of plastic wrap for freezing. Bring to cool room temperature to soften before serving.


Instructions for prepping easy grilled corn:

Remove husks and silks from fresh sweet corn. Use a sharp knife to make fresh, flat cuts on the ends of the corn ears. This will make it easier to hold them with corn handles. Tear off a square piece of aluminum foil for each ear. Melt salted butter in the microwave or on the stove top. Use a pastry brush to thoroughly but lightly coat each ear with melted butter. Season with salt and pepper. With the corn ear centered on the foil square, fold up one long end of foil all the way over the corn. Then, roll it up and twist or fold the ends to seal.

A bit of friendly, been-there-tried-that advice: resist the temptation to put the compound butter on the corn before grilling, especially if it has any type of cheese in it. In my experience, the add-ins will burn or gunk up or stick to the foil, rather than the corn. It does not seem to make a difference what type of foil you use, either, as I’ve had the same trouble using the expensive “non-stick” foil. It’s best to keep it simple for grilling, and add your flavored butter component at serving time. Besides, it’s fun to watch the butter ooze over the hot ears of corn! 🙂


The cooking instruction is a bit more nebulous because, as my husband, Les, says, grilling is an inexact science. How long you cook the corn depends on the type of grill you use, the temperature you are using for whatever else you’re grilling and placement of the corn on the grill, whether direct or indirect heat. When I pressed Les for a “ballpark” estimate on time, he quickly answered, “40 minutes.” The best thing to do is put it on the grill early, turn it periodically and check it a few times until it is done to your liking. We love it with a little bit of char on some of the kernels. And Les says if you turn up the temperature sometime to sear meat or another food, move the corn onto the upper warming rack.


Happy Summer!


9 thoughts on “Compound Butters for Grilled Corn

  1. Pingback: Shrimp & Quinoa Salad | Comfort du Jour

    • Oh, yes, they will keep in the freezer for a couple of months. I’d suggest shaping the butter like a block or cylinder and wrap it snugly in a couple layers of plastic wrap. If you have a lot of other foods in the freezer, it helps to slip the wrapped butter into a zip top bag or wrap in foil to prevent it taking on odors. I hope it turns out great for you, Bernadette! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You are so right about roasted corn. There is something about it that gives corn a little something special. Your hometown sounds like the visions I conjure when I day dream about living in the country. What a great picture from your past and roasting corn with your friend. I do miss those small town times spent with my close girlfriends, like cutting a half-gallon of ice cream in half so we each had a side… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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