St. Louis-style Street Corn
A zesty spice blend puts the zing into this summer side dish that comes together in a snap.
Certain foods say summer to me. I remember eating watermelon off paper plates in the back yard. Freshly picked tomatoes from Dad’s garden were sliced for sandwiches. Corn on the cob was eaten from the green and yellow corn-cob-shaped ceramic dishes Mom made. I still use those corn dishes.
Fresh, sweet corn is an essential to a Midwestern summer, and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with spreading butter on the cob and digging in, this recipe that’s influenced by amazing Mexican street corn comes together easily and will keep your shirt a little cleaner! It reminds me a bit of the fried corn recipe my dad loved for Thanksgiving; I mean, how can cooking corn in bacon fat be anything but wonderful?
I found this recipe while doing research for a book I co-authored this spring (A Culinary History of Missouri: Foodways & Iconic Dishes of the Show-Me State) that will be published this fall by The History Press. The zing to this dish comes from fresh lime juice and Old Vienna Red Hot Ripley seasoning.
St. Louisans are familiar with Old Vienna’s Red Hot Riplets, which are ridge-cut potato chips seasoned liberally with a chili pepper/barbecue powder. Old Vienna Snack Food Company was founded by Louis Kaufman in 1936. It had changed ownership over the years and in 1996, employee Steve Hoffman and another investor bought the company—saving it from an almost certain bankruptcy—that now operates in Fenton, Missouri (just southwest of St. Louis) under Old Vienna LLC. The Red Hot Riplets are the company’s flagship product.
We love this corn dish, and I think your family will, too. If you can’t find the Red Hot Riplets seasoning near you, it’s available through the Old Vienna site, or you could substitute chili powder.
To make this dish, you’ll need:
2 slices of bacon
2 ounces Cotija or feta cheese, crumbled
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
2 green onions, chopped, including green tops
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (approximately 1 lime)
1 teaspoon Red Hot Riplets seasoning
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 cups fresh corn kernels (approximately 4 ears, shucked)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded, diced
For my taste, the corn had enough “heat” to it with the seasoning, so I left out the jalapeno. If you’re taking this to a picnic or outdoor gathering, I advise keeping it chilled in a cooler or place the serving container in a bowl of ice because it’s dressed in mayonnaise.
We know corn is a cornerstone of Mexican culture and cuisine. The Mexican street corn we’re familiar with comes from Mexico City, a destination known for its street food. Mexican street corn is dressed with either mayonnaise or sour cream (instead of butter) and then finished with cheese, lime, and spices. It’s a popular item sold from food trucks or found at international festivals.
In St. Louis, a city with a rich Hispanic culture, street corn is on the menu at popular Mexican restaurants such as Mission Taco (where it’s served off the cob) and at Dos Reyes on Hampton Avenue on the city’s South Side where it’s offered as a dip or as a side.
Our Hispanic-American culture is particularly strong along Cherokee Street west of Jefferson Avenue. Since the early 1980s, numbers of Spanish-speaking people arrived in this predominately working-class South Side neighborhood. The Cinco de Mayo celebration in this neighborhood is wonderful fun, but it’s not the only Hispanic fest in the area.
The Greater St. Louis Hispanic Festival will be held this year in Florissant, located north of downtown St. Louis, on Oct. 2 and 3. Many cultures, including Hispanic/Latinix, are celebrated by the International Institute of Saint Louis’ Festival of Nations, a festival this summer that’s a mixture of virtual and in-person celebration.
In truth, St. Louis bounced between the Spanish and French since Europeans arrived here. According to the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, although the territory had been ceded to Spain in 1762, the area was under French administration until 1770 when Pedro Piernas took over as the Spanish governor of St. Louis, reporting to the governor of Louisiana in New Orleans. The Louisiana territories were returned to France in 1800 with the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso.
That’s what I love about St. Louis, indeed Missouri, food: It’s been influenced by so many cultures. When I take a bite of this Hispanic-inspired corn dish, I pause to remember the people who shared their culture and cuisine with us. Give this recipe a try and let me know how it turned out for you!