Give corn off the cob a closer look

Nobody needs help figuring out what to do with fresh corn during the first few weeks of its season. But it's about time for some alternatives to standard corn on the cob.

One of my favorite alternatives is a simple salad. Just carve the kernels off the cob and toss with any number of salad fixings. The advantages of enjoying corn off the cob — a more intense combination of flavors, a wider range of seasoning options and no immediate need for dental floss — far outweigh the minor inconvenience of slicing kernels from the cob.

In fact, I've come to believe that what I always considered an arduous task can actually be done in the brief time it takes to drink one really great glass of pinot. Interesting conversation going on around you helps, too, of course. So be sure to line up a room full of delightful friends during this phase whenever possible.

And while I'm on the subject of cutting corn away from the cob, I might as well pass along my true bias on the subject. I like to leave the corn in chunky pieces, the way it falls away from the cob, instead of breaking those chunks into individual kernels. I even have a name for these pieces: corn rafts. Eating a corn raft provides a greater hit of corn flavor and texture, which as any "corn-head" will tell you, is what eating corn is all about.

To make corn rafts for these corn-themed salad recipes, hold a cob of cooked-and-cooled corn vertically on a cutting board (stalk-side down) and cut down between the kernels and cob, as close as possible to the cob, in a precise and steady motion. The corn will fall away in chunks of connected kernels. Rotate and repeat the cutting.

When you've removed corn rafts from the cobs, use a spatula to gently lift the chunks of corn from the cutting board and place them on a plate until ready to use. If some rafts seem too long, just break them into shorter lengths.

The idea is to have pieces that are relatively bite-sized.

You can prepare the corn up to 24 hours ahead, then simply arrange the rafts on a plate, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Extend the theme to my Rogue River Salad, created for Corvallis-based whitewater guides, Joy and Bob Henkle, both self-professed "foodies" who grow a lot of the produce guests consume on their river adventures. So this salad contains some serious Northwest specialties: hazelnuts, Walla Walla Sweets, smoky bacon from fine regional producer, Carlton Farms and — as a nod to the river they're running — a bit of Rogue Creamery blue cheese, of course.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, cookbook author and artist. Readers can contact her by e-mail at janrd@proaxis.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

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