Why You Shouldn’t Throw Away Corn Husks

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Jessica Goldman Foung)

My brother and I used to fight over shucking duties. Sitting out on the front porch with a paper bag between our legs, the lucky one got to rip the leaves off the cob, freeing wisps of corn silk confetti into the air — and all over our steps. (I wonder now if my parents fought over post-corn shucking cleanup with equal enthusiasm.)

The naked corn would then get submerged in a pot of boiling water or milk before being paired with a plate of crab or artichokes or something equally summery. And all those husks got tossed in the trash — because, remember, we’re talking about the pre-composting 90s here.

(Image credit: Jessica Goldman Foung)

Even in my adulthood, I continued the shuck-and-discard routine, only keeping the husks on if I grill. But recently I realized how wasteful I’ve been, and — as if I trashed a pair of jeans after one wear — I’ve been tossing out a valuable culinary ingredient every time I undressed my corn.

If you’ve ever eaten a traditional tamale, then you’ve experienced the cooking power of corn husks. But what about other dishes? You can add washed corn husks to your stock pot for extra-woody flavor, which could be nice in a mushroom soup or corn chowder. Or like a tamale, use those husks as a wrapper for sticky rice in place of lotus leaves.

But let’s take it one step further and use them for both their flavor and wrapping abilities by placing some seasoned fish inside, like en papillote, and throw the whole thing on the grill.

(Image credit: Jessica Goldman Foung)

How to Make Corn Husk Grilled Fish

Start by preheating your grill to medium heat, then give your corn husks a quick rinse or soak in warm water so they’re clean and pliable, about two to three minutes. Shake and blot off excess water and place the husks on a flat plate or rectangular dish, and rub oil over the leaves (any oil will do). From there, oil and season your fish — I chose a spicy, Tex-Mex blend of cumin, smoked paprika, chipotle, and garlic powder.

From here, you have a few options: You can wrap smaller pieces of fish in individual husks — as pictured — starting with the fish on one end, then rolling the husk over itself and the fish until you reach the other end, placing it seam-side down on the grill (or grill pan).

If you wish to cook the filet whole, then choose option two: Layer several husks over themselves to form a sheet. Then, place the fish directly on top of the leaves and cook, open-faced, on the grill (see next paragraph). If using this method, arrange the leaves directly on the grill before adding the fish. Depending on the size of the filet, you can also roll the layered husk sheet as you did with the smaller pieces of fish — over itself and the fish until you reach the other end — then place it seam-side down on the grill.

Once on the grill, cover the grill and cook the fish until it is firm to the touch, about eight to 10 minutes for the small fish pieces and 12 to 15 minutes for the larger filet. To keep the corn husks from burning, use a spray bottle to spritz them every once in a while.

Finally, serve the fish directly inside the corn husks, letting guests unwrap their dinner surprise. Provide fixings — like corn salsa, Mexican corn salad, or creamed corn — on the side. You can also take the fish out of the husks and layer it on a platter or individual plates with whatever corn-centric treat you made underneath.

(Image credit: Jessica Goldman Foung)

Note: One ear of corn will yield about six to eight usable husks, give or take, so plan accordingly for how you will use the husks and how much fish you will be cooking.

You can also make this dish with a 400°F oven and a grill pan. Follow the same directions for wrapping and cooking times.

Updated from post published August 2015.