Cream cheese and jalapenos make magic in this old-fashioned corn casserole
In our series Saving Southern Recipes, Associate Editor Kate Williams explores the deep heritage of Southern cooking through the lens of passed-down, old family recipes.
Peak-season, made-from-scratch creamed corn is a wonder. Seemingly conjured out of thin air, its sauce is made from the lush, creamy starch of the corn and creates a glorious, pudding-like dish. Not much else, other than a bit of salt, a tab or two of butter and a generous grinding of fresh black pepper, is needed to make it shine.
But peak corn season is long gone, and canned and frozen kernels are now really the only corn worth eating. Even though they may be better than the bland, starchy and tough fresh ears sitting on grocery shelves, both need a bit more love to make them shine.
Of course, Southern cooks have known this since corn first made its way into a can — scan through any old-fashioned cookbook or pile of recipe cards and you’ll see countless recipes for corn pudding, corn casserole and corn soup, all made with a preserved version of the summer vegetable, and all doctored up with extra cream, butter, chiles and cheese.
I, for one, grew up eating Jiffy cornbread mix studded generously with frozen, thawed yellow corn. At family gatherings, a more loaded-down corn casserole would appear with, again, Jiffy mix, plus canned corn, canned green chiles and grated pepper jack cheese. Lots of grated cheese. It was a rich, slightly spicy and goopy dish — almost more casserole than cornbread.
These mixtures and casseroles are all better solutions than opening cans of premade “cream-style” corn when the craving strikes. This product is is thickened to a far-too-gloppy mess with food starch and a heavy hand with sugar. Do, instead, as Southern Kitchen reader Wanda Everett does and create the cream yourself.
Made somewhat like an oven-baked creamed corn, Everett’s recipe for “Hot Corn” blends cream cheese and butter with a couple cans of shoepeg corn, a can of green chiles and diced jalapeños. This ultra-simple recipe can be made all in a casserole dish; you’ll just need a knife to chop the jalapeños and a spatula to stir it all together.
The cream cheese is the key to success here, as it adds not only a creamy texture, but also a bit of tang to cut the richness of the butter. Speaking of butter, you can certainly back down on it here. A full stick is (obviously) delicious, but the end result will still be successful with about half as much. (This is how the recipe is written below.) I also struggled to find canned shoepeg corn for whatever reason; perhaps my Publix was just out. Canned yellow sweet corn will also work just fine. Look for cans with no added sugar if that sort of thing bothers you.
Another tip: after baking the dish until it bubbles, switch the oven to broil, and get the top browned and a bit crisp before serving. The little brown nubbins are the best part.
Serves: 4 to 6
Hands-on time: 10 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes
8 ounces cream cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 (14-ounce) cans shoepeg corn or yellow sweet corn (not cream-style)
1 (4.5-ounce) can hot or mild chopped green chiles
3 jalapeños, finely diced and seeds removed, if desired
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. While the oven is heating, place the cream cheese and butter in a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Place in the oven to melt.
When the cream cheese has fully softened, remove the dish from the oven. Stir to combine the butter and cream cheese. Stir in the corn, green chiles and jalapeños, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Return the dish to the oven and bake until bubbly, 30 to 35 minutes.
Switch the oven to broil and continue to bake until the top of the corn is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.
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