July 14, 2011
Roasted fresh corn is another state-fair food tradition

We dropped by the California State Fair on Wednesday to check out the upcoming buffet at the food kiosks along the main promenade. Workers and cookers rushed around, preparing for today's noon opening. We found the usual on-a-stick items (alligator tail tastes nothing like chicken, by the way), along with chocolate-covered bacon, deep-fried Moon Pies and tons of garlic fries.

Looking for something more healthful, we spotted pasta, vegetarian spring rolls, falafel and grilled vegetables. But what stopped us was the Corn Shack, this year celebrating its 20th anniversary at the fair.

There, we talked with owner Dominic Palmieri, who has worked the fair circuit for 22 years. His company is based in Phoenix, Ariz.

Tell us about your corn-on-the-cob, please ($3.50 an ear, with fixins).

"It's California-grown 'big barrel corn,' with a cob almost 10 inches long," Palmieri said. "We oven-roast the ears in the husks at 600 degrees. It cooks so quickly that it never gets the chance to reach the starch stage. Instead, (the fast roasting) brings out the corn's naturally occurring sugar-content level. Our corn is picked every morning and goes from the field to the customer within 24 hours. We'll sell an entire field of corn here at the state fair."

After cooking, the ears are removed from their husks and handed over to customers. It's up to them to doctor the "naked corn" with butter and/or combinations of a dozen seasonings. "There are more than 300 combinations of seasonings, whatever creation you can come up with. It's a corn-lover's fantasy come true," Palmieri said.

Obviously, fairgoers love fresh corn. "Oh, yes," he mused. "It's amazing to watch them line up for corn at 10 a.m., when the fair opens (Fridays through Sundays; otherwise noon)," he mused. "Who eats corn in the morning?"

And the record for the most corn eaten by one fairgoer in a single day? That would be 24.

For more on the state fair:

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