One of the things I love about Southern vegetable side dishes is that any time I eat them, I kind of have to rationalize the relative health benefits to myself. "Sure, these collard greens have a ham hock, and are drenched in heartburn-inducing pepper vinegar," I'll say to myself. "But greens are good for you! I read it on WebMD!" I mean, the same is true for grits, right? It's just ground corn, after all, even if grits are best enjoyed smothered in cheese, butter and cream.
Creamed corn, however, is my ultimate weakness. I order creamed corn anytime it's on a menu at a restaurant, and I've tried countless recipes trying to find the "perfect" creamed corn. A few years ago, I finally stumbled on the closest thing to creamed corn perfection, the pepper jack creamed corn at Hall's Chophouse, which is topped with a crunchy smattering of bread crumbs in a sizzling hot cast iron skillet.
Lucky for me (and Charleston Grit readers), Executive Chef Matthew Niessner was gracious enough to share Hall's Chophouse's recipe for their delectable creation. Since they make their creamed corn in restaurant-sized batches meant to serve many, I've tested their recipe in small batches and come up with the closest home version. Even better is that Chef Niessner's original version uses rice flour instead of all-purpose flour, which makes this recipe gluten-free. And hey, that's almost a code word for healthy, right?
Pepper Jack Creamed Corn (adapted from Hall's Chophouse's restaurant recipe)
8 ears white corn, in husks.
4 cups pepper jack sauce (recipe below) or more, to taste.
2 tablespoons salted butter.
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs.
1/4 cup chives, diced (optional.)
Arrange rack in oven to the center. Preheat oven to 350 degrees; arrange corn in its husks in a single layer and roast corn for approximately 35-40 minutes. Remove corn from oven when done but do not turn off the oven. Let corn cool slightly before removing from husks and cutting corn off of the cob. Add corn to pepper jack sauce in a large bowl and stir gently to incorporate. Pour corn mixture into a greased ovenproof casserole dish. In a small skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat and add panko bread crumbs, stirring continuously until bread crumbs are golden brown and toasted. Sprinkle bread crumbs on top of corn mixture and place in oven an addiitonal 10-15 minutes. Garnish with diced chives, if desired. Serve immediately.
Pepper Jack Sauce (makes approximately 6-8 cups; leftovers can be frozen for a future batch of creamed corn)
1/4 pound salted butter.
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (substitute rice flour for gluten-free.)
2 cups (1 quart) half and half.
1.5 cups 2% milk.
1/2 small onion, cut into small dice (approximately 1 cup.)
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into small dice (approximately 1 cup.)
2 cloves garlic, minced.
1 cup grated pepper jack cheese.
1 cup sharp yellow cheddar cheese.
1 tablespoon Crystal hot sauce.
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg.
salt and pepper to taste.
Melt 1/4 pound of butter in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add red bell pepper, onion and garlic and saute for at least 10 minutes until onion is transluscent and red bell pepper is soft. Whisk in flour until it is evenly distributed and incorporated into the pepper/onion/garlic mixture. Slowly add milk and half and half, whisking vigorously to combine. Reduce heat to low and simmer until sauce is thickened, approximately 45 minutes. Add hot sauce and stir until combined. Add grated cheeses slowly and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Use immediately or freeze for later use.
For more photos of the process, visit my personal blog.
(Top image and cover image via First2board, author's personal photos)