Two days ago, celebrity chef David Chang, of Momofuku fame, shared a summer corn recipe on his Instagram and thousands of his followers lost their collective sh*t. Chang’s recipe was insanely simple — husk some corn and toss it in the microwave for 2:30 seconds. Season with butter, salt, and MSG. That’s literally it. But he was confident enough that he laid the gauntlet down for all comers, “Dare you to find an easier fresh corn recipe.”
Chang’s followers know enough about food to not get tripped up by the inclusion of MSG, do some research if that bit troubles you. But there was still something in that simple set of directions that caught them off guard. To paraphrase scores of commenters: “Seriously bro… a microwave?”
I’ll readily admit that I was among that group. I almost never use a microwave. My aversion to them borders on zealotry — only breaking it out to warm up butter on cold days, I don’t even do microwave popcorn (anymore) preferring to pop my kernels stove top like some sort of hippie jackass. How could anything cooked in a microwave ever taste good? How could its flavors endure being zapped?
“What’s that you say? A baked potato will take me 1:00 minute? I’m good fam, I’ll spend an hour baking that baby in an oven instead! That makes perfect sense!”
Truth be told, it makes me sick to even look at the microwave. With its myriad buttons and digital clock, it’s so… un-kitchen-like. Some sort of Boomer nightmare device that sacrifices love and craft for machine-driven efficiency. “Show me a person who uses a microwave and I’ll show you a person who doesn’t know how to cook,” is what I’ve always said.
But uh, David Chang is David Chang. So that’s obviously not true. I mean one of us is a world-renowned chef and the other is the founder of Momofuku and Lucky Peach, you know? The guy appears to have some cooking skills, is my point. So I decided to give the recipe a try.
I hit up the market, picked up some corn (I already had MSG, salt, and butter because I’m dope), husked it, and I even put it in a white bowl — just like Chang. I had to follow his recipe to a T, no extra variables, no deviation, no Tajín, even though I KNOW it would make it better. Just butter, salt, MSG, and the f*cking microwave.
How much salt, butter and MSG? I don’t know. He didn’t say so I’m just going to do everything “to taste.”
Quick note, if you’re looking for MSG and can’t find it in the spice aisle, look for the brand Acćent or other “flavor enhancers” and then check the ingredients. You should find that they consist entirely of Monosodium Glutamate and are marketed this way for people who are still afraid of MSG.
If you go to a bougie market like Sprouts or Trader Joes or hit up an Asian market you might find it labeled as MSG, or Ajinomoto.
I blended just a bit of salt and MSG together for easy seasoning, I cut the corn cobs into thirds, put them in a bowl and *clears throat* put them in the microwave for 2:30. I’ve got to say: this has to be the least ceremonious I’ve ever felt making anything.
What does one do as a microwave cooks? Well, I had to take an ominous microwave picture just like Chang.
The dish was soon ready; unappetizingly quickly. As I opened the microwave I was greeted with a fragrant wave of corn aroma. It definitely smelled good, but did it taste good? I slathered a cob in butter, sprinkled the MSG salt mixture and gave it an extra Emeril Lagasse-like toss of the seasoning once I’d finished sprinkling — bang!
And the verdict is…
Ugly (in technique) but delicious! I was surprised — each kernel of corn was evenly cooked, and the MSG added a savory layer that made you go back bite after bite. It certainly tasted like I had done something more to the corn besides just three simple ingredients. Would it have tasted better if I’d boiled the corn on the stove? I honestly don’t think I would’ve been able to tell the difference. And it was easier than making a cup of ramen which, if you’re wondering, I prepare by boiling water and letting it sit for three minutes. NEVER IN A MICROWAVE.
Here’s the thing about cobs of corn — they aren’t a meal. They’re a side. David Chang’s recipe was easy, fast, and convenient, considering I didn’t have to stand near a stove during summertime as water boiled. For that, I appreciate it. If the stove is full and I’m busy sauteeing onions or putting together a sauce, and need a quick side, best believe I’m going to keep Chang’s preparation in mind. But I’ll be modifying it with some chili powder, or maybe even some curry powder because I’m a born renegade.
Has it opened up my mind to the microwave? Never.
Look, I’m sure these boxy devil devices are just fine and totally don’t scramble your brain. But they also represent so much that went wrong in the American foodway. They gave birth to a massive bloom in the frozen food industry, allowing stores to completely forgo fresh produce.
If I was cooking for others I wouldn’t disclose the heinous act that I’d just committed. Besides, the best way to have corn on the cob is either in the oven or roasted on a fire. Until the microwave is capable of creating those charred kernels that burst with flavor, I’ll continue to look at this contraption sideways.
Still, the nature of Chang’s challenge was, “I dare you to find an easier fresh corn recipe,” and the fact of the matter is that I doubt anyone will.