Elote: Mexico’s Famous Grilled Street Corn

 In Spanish, “elote” translates to corn on the cob.

However, the Mexicans sure don’t serve basic corn; they add their incredibly diverse culinary skills to make a creamy, savory, and even spicy meal.

 The Mexican elotes are typically seen in the streets of Mexico City, sold next to tacos on street carts.

You can also find them in some US states, especially amid special festivals and holidays.

In this article, I’ll explain two different ways to make the authentic Mexican elotes. Vámonos!

Background and Overview

Mexican Street Corn Elote with corn husks and lime.
Mexican Street Corn Elote

Elotes are one of the most authentic foods in Mexican cuisine: Historians confirm that the Native American tribes dignified sweet corn as a crucial crop that shouldn’t be discontinued at all costs.

They ate it directly off the cob since they didn’t really care for etiquette and whatnot.

It’s not clear whether the Spanish colonizers had any effect on how elotes were made.

Most people believe that the current recipe is the same one that was used by the native inhabitants hundreds of years ago.

The thing that amazes me the most about elotes is how they manage to pack that amount of flavorful notes.

The sweet, tender kernels are covered by the soft Mexican Crema. A small layer of cotija (dry Mexican cheese) is sprinkled on top as a light savory layer.

And finally, the chili powder on the outermost layer gives the ultimate explosive taste with every single bite.

Ingredients

Here are the things you’ll need to gather in order to make this appetizing Mexican snack.

  • 6 to 8 ears of sweet corn
  • 1/2 cup of Mexican Crema (or sour cream)
  • 1/2 cup of mayonnaise
  • 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 cup of cotija cheese (or Parmesan)
  • 1/3 cup of chopped cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder

How to Make the Classic Mexican Elotes in 9 Simple Steps

Elotes served with lime wedges.
Elotes

Now let’s jump into action and see how to make the best Mexican-approved elotes!

Step 1: Shop for the Right Corn

Naturally, to make the perfect elotes, you’ll need the perfect corn. Although any type would work, I suggest searching for the Peruvian corn, aka choclo.

Why? Well, the choclos have big, tender kernels that respond well to whatever layers you add. Plus, since they’re less sweet, they’ll fit nicely with the powerful chili powder and the salty cheese.

Regardless of the type, make sure the ears of corn have moist husks. Dried husks often mean that the corn isn’t fresh, which takes quite a toll on the final taste.

Also, peek inside the husk to check whether the kernels reach all the way up to the cob’s tip; if they don’t, look for another ear because that one is probably genetically modified — that’s the last thing you’d want to eat!

Step 2: Roast the Corn

Roast the ears of corn inside the oven on medium heat for about 15 minutes. Don’t remove the husks, though: This allows the kernels to become tender without losing too much of their moisture.

No oven? No worries! You can put the ears of corn inside the microwave for 3 minutes on high heat.

Step 3: Remove the Husk

After removing the ears of corn from the oven, let them sit for a while so that you can grab them without burning your hand.

Then, cut the base of each ear with a knife. Start peeling off the husks and strings until every ear of corn becomes completely clean.

Step 4: Boil the Corn With Salted Butter (Optional)

I’ve seen some Mexican families dipping the ears of corn into a large saucepan with boiling water for about 30 minutes. They also add a stick of salted butter to make the corn more juicy and flavorful.

You can skip this step since you already roasted the corn in the oven.

Step 5: Mount the Corn on Skewers

In order to conveniently handle the corn in the following steps, mount them on wooden skewers. You can also use chopsticks if you want a thicker, more comfortable grip. And don’t worry; the chopsticks can be washed and reused after you finish.

Step 6: Prepare the Cream Mixture

In a small bowl, pour 1/2 a cup of Mexican Crema, add 1/2 a cup of mayonnaise, sprinkle some lime zest, and squeeze a lemon. Whisk well until you get a smooth, shiny cream. 

If you don’t have Mexican Crema, you can use the regular sour cream. But honestly, I highly prefer the first since it’s not as salty. This allows me to fine-tune the final taste with as much seasoning as I want.

Step 7: Paint the Cream

Here comes the fun part! With a pastry brush, pick up some of the cream you just made and paint it over each ear of corn. I like to entrust my kids with this mission; they always compete on who can finish first!

Some people drizzle an additional layer of margarine in a zigzag shape on top of the cream. I don’t really like that since the elotes are already loaded with lots of different flavors; adding yet another one might do more harm than good.

Step 8: Add the Cotija Cheese

Cotija cheese is the Mexican version of feta or Parmesan. In fact, you can use the latter ones if you can’t lay your hands on the original cotija.

The thing that makes cotija better than any other cheese is how moderate its salt is. It also crumbles and gives a unique texture that complements the buffy kernels.

Before spreading the cotija over the corn, I like to break it up in a blender. This enhances the taste and lets you add more cheese bits on every ear of corn.

Step 9: Add Your Favorite Toppings

The Mexican elotes are always sprinkled with spices; however, the chosen spices vary considerably. You can add chili powder, smoked paprika, chipotle pepper, cayenne pepper, or any similar topping.

I’ve also seen people putting hot sauce, chopped cilantro, and lime juice; this really boils down to your personal preferences.

And that’s it! Serve your elotes right away before they get cold.

Alternative Recipe: Elotes in a Bowl

Elote Mexican Street Corn Bowl with tortilla chips.
Elote Mexican Street Corn Bowl

To be frank, eating corn on the cob isn’t something that everybody would enjoy.

Luckily, we can remove the cob from the start to effortlessly enjoy a bowl of appetizing elote!

After roasting the corn, remove the husk and cut the kernels with a knife. Try to go as deep as you can to cut full-sized kernels.

Then, throw the kernels in boiling water with a stick of salted butter for 30 minutes, just like the original method. 

Now place 3–4 tablespoons of kernels in a small bowl or cup. With the pastry brush, mix the cream thoroughly between the kernels.

After finishing, flatten the cream’s top and make sure there’s enough room for a thick layer of cotija cheese.

All you have to do next is pick your favorite topping and enjoy!

The Final Word

Elote Traditional Mexican Dish
Elote Traditional Mexican Dish

If you ask me, there’s nothing that can showcase the incredible variety of Mexican cuisine like elotes.

They combine the sweetness of corn, the softness of cream, saltiness of cheese, and the strength of chili powder. Pretty cool, huh?

Remember, you must roast the ears of corn in their husks before carrying on with the process.

Otherwise, the kernels would be too firm, which can ruin the whole experience. As for the boiling, you may skip it if you want your kernels to retain a bit of their texture.

See you with another exotic snack!

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