It’s the last week of August and I’m over here pretending summer is forever. Yes, the dishes on Instagram feeds everywhere are getting cozier but clearly, I didn’t get the memo. Instead, I’m living in a haze of popsicles, crisp chilled salads, and grilled proteins like September is never going to come. I, of course, know it will but that’s no reason to draw attention to it. It’s so much better to live in an endless summer delusion and while shoveling Grilled Corn Queso into your mouth. Okay, so maybe the word “better” is a little strong, but this is the “self-care” regiment I’m currently working with.
To everyone who clicked their tongue at my queso-centric self-care regiment, fair enough. It does have a ring of unhealthiness to it. But, surprise surprise, not everything I do is healthy. I run, sure, I even eat the odd apple. I can be as healthy as the next non-descript white lady. But I also have a healthy appreciation for hot fudge sundaes, Sour Patch Kids, french fries, and tubs of gooey, molten cheese. And rather than shunning that side of myself, I allow her out to play every now and then. And because she can blow off steam once and a while, my more regimented self has better control of the reigns.
This healthy/unhealthy balance I’ve struck has never been more valuable. There are a ton of not-so-joyful things that come with a pandemic. Shocker, I know! And when life teaches you to take the good with bad, sometimes you have to manufacture a little good to balance out the bad. And to me, that manufactured good is this Grilled Corn Queso.
I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will, this is not a light recipe. This Grilled Corn Queso doesn’t get its silky texture from pureed squash or cauliflower, it gets that texture from cheese, a lot of cheese. I just want you to know that before we get into it. But having said that, this recipe is built for sharing (with people in your COVID bubble, obvi), so I’m not asking you to consume a pound of cheese all by your lonesome.
There is something exciting about making food that is this willfully unhealthy. I just get tingly when I throw that much cheese into something. It’s not about making something balanced, it’s all about making yourself happy. And what makes me happy, apparently, is vast quantities of smoked gouda and sharp cheddar. Now, I realize I may have destroyed my street cred with the queso purists. I know real Texan queso is made with Velveeta. The Velveeta is key to the queso’s magic power – its ability to move from a molten state to a gloopy cold state back to a molten state without breaking. Most cheese sauces can’t do this, so props to Velveeta. But I can’t get down with Velveeta. Feel free to call me a snob, if you must.
So with my heart set on real cheese queso that I could reheat and chill to my heart’s content, I knew I had my work cut out for me. So I took to the Internet in search of answers. And naturally, I wound up on Serious Eats. When I want to get seriously into the weeds with a particular dish, Serious Eats is always my first stop. And they did not disappoint.
In my previous adventures on the Internet, I had bookmarked Serious Eats’ Three-Ingredient Mac and Cheese because at the time grocery stores were getting weirder and so were my shopping habits. Lockdown or not, it never hurts to have a recipe populated with few and fairly unpopular ingredients – the pasta notwithstanding. But what I didn’t realize is this Mac and Cheese recipe was part of a larger series on creating more stable cheese sauces.
The reason queso-lovers favor Velveeta is its willingness to readily transform into a uniform lava-like state. Velveeta can do this because it contains sodium alginate, an emulsifying salt that is a brown algae derivative. You can replicate the effects of sodium alginate by incorporating evaporated milk, which contains a high level of milk proteins and little water. Lower-protein cheeses, such as cheddar, need all the help they can get as their fat and water will separate from one another at relatively low temperatures. The added milk proteins from the evaporated milk encourage lower-protein cheeses to hold their emulsion at significantly high temperatures.
Then there’s the starch. To further strengthen the final emulsion, the cheese is tossed in cornstarch before being introduced to heat. The cornstarch absorbs water and expands which thickens the sauce and prevents the proteins from bonding together and breaking away from the pack resulting in a nearly unbreakable sauce.
This was the method I used for today’s Grilled Corn Queso and it worked like a dream. I even reheated a bowl the next day for another round of snacking. So yes, it is possible to reheat real cheese queso a day after making it and enjoy it. I know, I’m living proof.
So that is everything, and likely more, that you need to know about this Grilled Corn Queso. It’s sharp, spicy, and perfectly saucy. I solemnly promise this queso will not break on you. So what are you waiting for? Get dipping!
Grilled Corn Queso
- 2 ears corn on the cob
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- fresh ground pepper
- 325g (11 oz) smoked gouda shredded
- 225g (8 oz) sharp cheddar shredded
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 cup evaporated milk
- 2 jalapeño quartered and sliced
- ¼ cup hot salsa
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro finely chopped
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- Shuck the corn and split each cob into two. Cover each piece with olive oil and sprinkle with the salt and pepper.
- Heat a BBQ grill or a cast iron griddle over high heat until smoking. Add the corn and rotate occasionally until evenly charred on all sides. Transfer the corn to a plate and set aside.
- Place the cheese in a large bowl and add the cornstratch. Toss the cheese until evenly coated in the cornstarch, set aside.
- Pour the evaporated milk into a small saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat and add the cheese. Stir the sauce until the cheese melts completely and a smooth glossy sauce forms.
- Cut the corn off of the cob and add it to the queso along with the salsa, jalapeño, cilantro, cumin and ground coriander. Stir to combine and remove from the heat.
- Pour the queso into a heat-proof bowl and serve immediately with a side of tortilla chips.