I honestly can’t remember the first time I tasted elotes, known popularly as Mexican street corn, or esquites, which is the same idea cut of the cobs. I imagine it was at one of the fabulous Mexican restaurants here in town. I can say I was ahead of the curve as a social media food trend, because I posted this recipe for Mexican Corn Salad in 2011 (I didn’t even know what Instagram was then). Now I see the idea everywhere – pizzas, dips, soups you name it. And it makes sense because it is an amazing combination. But I didn’t want to just jump on the bandwagon with another tortured version of corn, cheese and mayo. I liked the idea of something fresher and brighter that paid homage to the classic. So here we have a round of creamy queso fresco baked in a bed of corn and poblano peppers perfectly seasoned, with a squeeze of bright lime, and no mayo in sight. The presentation is a wow, but it’s the flavor that will have your friends swooning. When it is baking, the cheese will puff up like a souffle, but sink down to a beautiful, burnished puddle.
You can serve this with tortilla chips and I find the sturdier the better. You could also serve this with cornmeal crackers or toasted baguette. I put out a small spoon whatever the case to scoop up lots of corn. If you like things spicy, a finely diced jalapeno in the corn mixture will add more zing.
Baked Queso Fresco with Fresh Corn
1 (10-ounce) round queso fresco
1 poblano pepper
4 ears of corn
½ red onion
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon chile lime seasoning (such as Tajin)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon paprika
Generous grind of black pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon honey
1 Tablespoon olive oil, plus a bit more
1 lime, cut into wedges
- Bring the queso fresco to room temperature before baking.
- Roast the poblano pepper over an open flame or under the broiler until blackened and charred all over. Put the pepper in a paper bag, seal the bag and leave it until cool enough to handle. Peek the blackened skin from the pepper, rinsing it under cold water to remove it all. Pull out the stem and seed, pat the pieces dry with a paper towel, then finely dice.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Rub a cast iron baking dish or skillet lightly with olive oil
- Cut the kernels from the corn into a bowl, then add the diced poblano and the onion, finely diced. Stir in the cilantro, chile lime seasoning, salt, paprika, black pepper and cayenne. Stir in the honey and 1 Tablespoon olive oil to combine, the scrape it into a cast iron baking dish. Push some of the corn mixture to the sides to make a little well and nestle the round of queso fresco into it. Rub a little (about 1 teaspoon) of olive oil onto the top of the cheese and sprinkle some salt and pepper on top. Bake for 25 minutes, then turn on the broiler and broil for a further 10 – 15 minutes until browned and puffed up. Serve immediately with lime wedges to squeeze over the top and corn chips for scooping.
- The dish can be made and assembled several hours ahead of time and kept in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before baking.