Roasted sweet corn is pretty hard to beat during the summer months. It usually requires little more than a pat of butter and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, but don't let the season pass without making elote, that beautiful mess of crema, mayonnaise, and cotija cheese that only makes roasted summer corn more magical. With just a few simple techniques, this popular Mexican street snack can become your ultimate grilled corn upgrade.
What Is Mexican Street Corn?
Elote is dish comprised of cooked sweet corn slathered in a spicy mixture of mayonnaise, crema, and chili powder and then sprinkled with cheese. It is often advertised as Mexican street corn because it's a popular snack sold by vendors both on the streets and at festivals in Mexico. The corn on the cob is cooked — boiled or roasted — and served either on the cob or a stick. Choose fresh corn cobs in their husks for roasting. See if you can pick up cobs with longer stalk ends to eliminate the need for sticks for serving.
Elote prepared off the corn cob and served in a dish is called esquites. It's a great alternative to the on-the-cob variety if you want to capture these flavors in an easy-to-make dish for a crowd.
Get the Recipe: Esquites (Mexican Corn Salad)
The Crema and Cotija
Crema is a cultured dairy product similar to sour cream. On elote, crema works as the glue for adhering the spices and cheese onto grilled corn. While similar to crème fraîche and sour cream in terms of tang, crema is a bit thinner and sweeter than its tarter relatives. You can find both the crema and the cotija cheese — a mild, salty, crumbly cheese similar to feta — at your local Mexican market. Look for crema Mexicana,which is typically the thickest crema variety sold, for the best sticking power. If you're having trouble locating either of these items, substitute sour cream in place of the crema or finely grated Parmesan in place of the cotija; you'll still get the desired tangy, savory results that make this dish so popular.
Know the Difference: What's the Difference Between Sour Cream and Crème Fraîche?
Making and eating elote is a glorious mess. The roasted corn is usually slathered with the mayonnaise and crema, then rolled in the crumbled cheese. The result is a bit of the crema flying here and there as the corn is rolled. A purely optional solution, but highly recommended method, is to combine the mayonnaise and crema with the spices and lime juice and pour them into a tall glass or narrow pitcher. Then the roasted corn can be dunked in the mixture before rolling in the cheese. One important note: The crema mixture will stick best to cooled cobs.
How To Make Elote (Mexican Street Corn)
What You Need
6 medium fresh ears of corn
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup Mexican crema or sour cream
2 tablespoons lime juice (from 1 medium lime)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup crumbled cotija cheese (Parmesan will work if you can't find cotija)
1 medium lime, cut into wedges, for serving
- Husk the corn: If your corn still has husks, remove them and the silk from the corn, but keep as much of the stalk end attached as possible.
- Prepare a grill: Heat an outdoor gas grill to high or prepare a charcoal grill for indirect heat. A grill pan over medium heat will work as well.
- Make the sauce: While the grill heats, place the mayonnaise, crema or sour cream, lime juice, chili powder, and cumin in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth. Transfer this sauce into a tall, narrow drinking glass. Put the cotija on a large plate.
- Grill the corn: Grill the corn uncovered until some the kernels are bright yellow and a few are charred, 2 to 3 minutes per side, for a total of 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the corn from the grill and cool for 5 minutes.
- Dip the corn: Hold the drinking glass of sauce at an angle, then dip a cooled ear of corn into the mixture, turning the cob to coat completely. Hold the cob over the glass and shake gently to let the excess sauce drip back into the glass.
- Roll in the cheese: Roll the dipped cob in the crumbled cheese to coat completely. Place on a serving platter.
- Repeat and serve: Repeat dipping and rolling the remaining corn in the sauce and cheese. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing over the corn.
- Make ahead: The sauce mixture can be made and stored in the refrigerator up to 2 days ahead.