This dish—a light custard and an accompanying salad—showcases the American food I like best: classic late-summer fare, with the farm-stand flavors of sweet corn, tomato, and basil. Though the custard features fresh crabmeat, the vegetables are the star here; even the egg is used primarily to bind them together.
With greenmarkets overflowing at this time of year, it's easy to buy more produce than you need. There's an art to using everything. For this meal, corn, tomato, and lettuce appear side by side in separate recipes. But despite their similar ingredient lists, the custard and the salad don't taste alike. Instead, they complement each other—one is rich, the other refreshing. The custard gets zest from the addition of harissa, and the salad has the kick of jalapeño.
I have prepared a similar dish at DBGB Kitchen and Bar in Washington, D.C., as a tribute to Maryland blue crab and Virginia sweet corn. It makes a great entrée for brunch or lunch or a hearty starter at dinner. You can substitute shrimp or lobster for the crab—the custard cooks so delicately that you won't overcook the seafood. Serve this warm, or at room temperature on a hot day.
CRAB-AND-CORN CUSTARD AND CORN SALAD WITH YELLOW-TOMATO VINAIGRETTE
Makes 6 servings using 7-oz. soufflé cups
For the custard
2 T butter
3 cups fresh sweet yellow corn kernels, from about 6 ears
1½ cups heavy cream
1 T harissa
2 tsp. salt
4 whole eggs
Greenest outer leaves of 3 heads romaine, roughly chopped
½ bunch fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
6 oz. fresh, good-quality lump crabmeat
6 oz. heirloom grape tomatoes, halved
For the salad
8 oz. yellow tomatoes, quartered
1 tsp. sugar
2 T white balsamic vinegar
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1½ cups fresh sweet yellow corn kernels, from about 3 ears
12 oz. heirloom grape tomatoes, halved
1 small shallot, finely minced
1 jalapeño, quartered, seeded, and finely minced
½ bunch fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
Hearts of 3 heads romaine
Prepare the custard
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
In a medium sauté pan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and add the corn; cook until the kernels are soft and colored bright yellow, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove half of the corn and set it aside. In a blender, combine the rest of the corn, the cream, the harissa, and the salt; puree until smooth. With the blender running on low, add the eggs one at a time. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher or large measuring container and set it aside.
Wipe the pan clean and melt the remaining butter over medium heat. Add the romaine and the chopped basil; cook until just wilted, less than a minute. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels.
Place 6 small ramekins or soufflé cups into a casserole dish. Divide the greens evenly between the ramekins and spread to create a layer on the bottom. Layer with the crabmeat, followed by a layer of cooked corn kernels. Pour the custard mixture evenly into each ramekin and top with a layer of the halved tomatoes, cut sides up. Fill the casserole dish with hot water up to 1 inch from the top. Place in the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the tops are firm. While the custard is baking, make the salad.
Prepare the salad
Toss the yellow tomatoes with 1 teaspoon salt, the sugar, and the white balsamic vinegar. Cover with plastic wrap and let marinate in a warm place for about 20 minutes. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Pass through a fine-mesh sieve and refrigerate. This can be done several days in advance.
In a medium sauté pan, heat the olive oil and add the corn. Cook for about 3 to 4 minutes, or until the kernels are soft, then let cool in a large bowl. Add the grape tomatoes, shallot, jalapeño, and basil, and season with salt. Toss in 2 tablespoons of the yellow-tomato vinaigrette and chill.
To serve, cut the lettuce hearts in half and trim and discard the cores. Spoon 1 tablespoon of vinaigrette over each half and top with the tomato-and-corn mixture.
Serve the crab-and-corn custard warm or at room temperature alongside the chilled salad.
WHAT TO DRINK
"I like to pair this dish with a wine that matches the sweetness of the corn and crab, as well as the earthy spice of the harissa," says Raj Vaidya, head sommelier at Daniel restaurant in New York City. "Daniel Vollenweider's slightly off-dry 2014 Wolfer Goldgrube Riesling Kabinett [$30], from Germany's Mosel Valley, has a beautiful fruitiness, a touch of sugar, and lots of minerality." For an alternative, Vaidya suggests a drier Riesling from the Finger Lakes region of New York state. "Empire Estate's 2014 Dry Riesling [$18] is a fresh, energetic example with enough fruit to balance the dish's spice and play off of the sugary corn."
This story originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of Siweb.