Makeover Mama: Chicken in Sweet Corn Sauce

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 34 comments
This post was written for 5 Star Foodie Natasha's Makeover Summer '10 Special and she has generously agreed that I could post it here, too! Please be sure to check out the other entries (listed at the end of this post) as well as more to come until the end of August. If you are not yet familiar with Natasha's site, then read no further - just head straight to 5 Star Foodie. The name says it all . . .

Manok sa Mais (Chicken in Sweet Corn)
I was so pleased and excited when Natasha of 5 Star Foodie invited me to participate in her marvelous Makeover Summer ’10 Special, in which 10 fellow bloggers recreate a classic dish of their choice. It was particularly flattering to find myself in the company of such accomplished and creative cooks, although it did cause a twinge of anxiety – after all, they set a high bar for cooking and food blogging! But with a surprise box full of incredible ingredients from sponsor Marx Foods, I couldn’t help but be inspired. So, reaching into my recollections of family dinners past, I found a once-favored but since forgotten dish from my mother’s repertoire of on-the-fly recipes. Made with a convenience food, I though it could use a bit of a makeover . . .

Don’t bother asking my mother for a recipe. It’s not that she wouldn’t be delighted to share – she’s as much a recipe collector as anyone and appreciates the value of exchange. And it’s not that she would prefer to keep the glory of an amazing dish to herself – she’d be flattered that you enjoyed her food enough to try making it yourself. But like many intuitive cooks who have an innate grasp of flavors and methods, she cooks spontaneously and without measured deliberation. Some dishes come from memory, made so often that reaching for this vegetable or grabbing that spice is automatic; others may start with, say, a good cut of beef, and be followed by ingredients on hand or whatever strikes her fancy. Unless she is following a recipe herself, the chances that one of Mama’s dishes would be committed to written form are next to nil.

To be sure, my mother’s cooking is not some grand mystery of special ingredients, secret sauces and intricate technique. Having juggled marriage, four kids and a career, she often embraced the value of ease and convenience in cooking as countless working mothers have, and still subscribes to the notion that making good food need not be a laborious process. But when the period between coming home from work and setting dinner on the table was the duration of the evening news, Mama unabashedly made use of shortcuts.

From Can to Pan

Homemade Creamed Corn
One of these shortcuts was the integral element in a dish that had no name; we just called it ‘chicken with creamed corn’. Care to guess the critical ingredient? If you answered any brand of canned cream style corn, then you’re halfway to deciphering Mama’s recipe. As I recall, she fried seasoned chicken leg quarters in a cast iron pan until they were nice and crispy on the outside (mind you, this was when leaving the skin on was still all right). Then, she would open that can, poured the contents directly over the meat and let it come to a simmer. There may have been a few other additions – a pinch or dash of this and that, here and there – but otherwise, that was pretty much how the dish was made. It was fast, easy and convenient for my mother to cook, and it was fast, easy and delicious for us to eat.

Unfortunately, I discovered shortly after we married that my dear Mr. Noodle was not terribly fond of creamed corn and so, that favored family meal was sadly relegated to memory. But when Natasha sent me an invitation to make over a dish of my choice, it was the first thing that came to mind. As fond as I was of Mama’s chicken with creamed corn, I knew this was a chance to make it my own. Where she had used a convenience food because she was challenged for time, I would make it from scratch in order to challenge myself.

Canned food is perhaps the most popular kitchen aid; from canned vegetables and meat, canned soups and pastas, and even canned sandwiches, they serve as a convenient ingredient or a no-effort meal. They’ve helped me over the years as I slowly honed my cooking skills and I still keep my pantry stocked with tins of diced tomatoes and a variety of beans. But I will admit that they have been enablers. For as long as I’m able to reach for a can of black beans, I can tell myself that preparing them from dried takes too long; that for each container of tomato sauce, I save myself precious minutes of laborious chopping, seasoning, and simmering. This time, I decided to ban the can and make chicken with from-scratch creamed corn. In the end, I rediscovered an old favorite and found that the flavors gained from making an extra effort are worth more than a few minutes saved by opening a can.

I told Mama about recreating her dish and promised to make it for her soon. Thank goodness I wrote down the recipe . . .

A makeover is incomplete without the finishing touch, so in honor of my mom, I’ve renamed her dish in Tagalog:

Mama’s Manok sa Mais (Chicken in Sweet Corn)

It turns out that canned creamed corn and chicken is a popular Hong Kong homestyle dish and even the Minimalist Mark Bittman offered up a recipe a few years ago. While the HK versions use chopped chicken, my mother’s preparation kept the pieces – usually the leg quarters – whole. For my iteration, I used skinless, boneless breast meat, which I marinated in a simple paste made with Peruvian aji Amarillo, a hot chile pepper with surprisingly pleasant fruity notes, courtesy of my Marx Foods treasure box. I was looking to balance the sweetness of the corn sauce with a bit of bite; however, I lost my nerve and de-fanged the peppers by removing the seeds and pith from all but one pod. The result was a nice tingle on the tongue, but for those looking for more heat, I would advise keeping the peppers intact.

As for the creamed corn, I’m fortunate in that it is peak sweet corn season here in Minnesota and the kernels used in this recipe were like candy! As a result, I did not add any sugar, although you might consider a few tablespoons if you are using a less sweet variety. Finally, there is no cream in this creamed corn – the rich texture is instead achieved by puréeing a portion of the corn and adding it back to the mixture as a thickener.

Aji Amarillo-marinated Chicken

Makes approximately ¼ cup

Aji Amarillo
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled except for last layer of skin
3 dried aji Amarillo peppers, stems removed (seeds optional)
2 Tbsps cider vinegar
2 Tbsps water or chicken broth
salt to taste
4 pieces split boneless chicken breasts

In a cast iron pan over medium-high heat, toast garlic until soft inside skin. Remove from pan and set aside to cool. Place chile peppers in hot pan to toast, turning to get all sides. Watch carefully as the peppers can quickly start to burn. Remove when toasty brown spots appear on skin. When done, place peppers in a small bowl and add hot water to cover. Allow to soak for 30 minutes.

Peel cooled garlic and place in a food processor. Add chile peppers and pulse a few times to chop them up. Add water or broth and vinegar, pulsing between tablespoons, until paste forms. Add salt to taste.

Spread paste over chicken pieces and let marinate in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours.

Creamed Corn

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 small onion, diced small
4-5 cups fresh corn kernels
¼ cup chicken broth
2 Tbsps all purpose flour
1 tsp coarse salt
¼ tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
1 cup lowfat (1%) milk
fresh oregano to garnish

Minnesota Sweet Corn
In a large sauté or fry pan, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. Sauté onions until soft but not browned; add corn and stir to mix well, then add chicken broth. Cover and let corn cook through, about 3-5 minutes. Mix flour, salt, pepper and dried oregano, and sprinkle mixture over corn; stir to coat kernels. Add milk and cook until it begins to thicken. Take one cup of corn mixture and purée in a food processor, then add back into the pan. Stir and cook until it reaches a thick, creamy consistency.

Grill or bake marinated chicken and serve with creamed corn sauce on top and a side of steamed rice.

My heartfelt thanks to Natasha for this special opportunity to contribute to her wonderful blog, and to Marx Foods for the treasure box of ingredients – I look forward to using them all!

Natasha's Makeover Summer '10 Special will continue each Monday through the end of August. Please check out these earlier entries:

- Greg at SippitySup: Turkish Lamb Kabobs with Pistachios and Soft Herb Salad
- Lazaro at Lazaro Cooks: Cuban Fish and Chips
- Lori Lynn at Taste With the Eyes: Contemporary Bistro Duck with Wild Mushrooms
- Bren at Flanboyant Eats: Saffron White Beans with Mushroom Medley and Seared Halibut
- Linda at Salty Seattle: Steak Diane and Fennel Pollen Saffron Ice Cream
- Kerstin at Cake, Batter, and Bowl: Fennel Pollen and Ginger Salmon with Coconut Lentils


  • Chef E said...

    I was never a fan of creamed corn, since my mom had limited cooking, and only baking skills- that is until I had homemade like yours, so I am a fan! This looks yummy!

  • Shandy said...

    You rocked the ingredients! I go into my collection of Mom and Grandma's handwritten, food stained recipe cards every-once-in-a-blue-moon to relive warm memories through a family dish and always end up tweaking the dish as I grow as a cook in the kitchen. Your photos are phenomenal and so is the dish!

  • Dee said...

    This looks delicious. Have always been a fan of creamed corn since we rarely had it when I was a kid. As well the Chilis Aji sound like the perfect bite with the corn & chicken. Delightful.

  • Ziggy said...

    fantastic recipe. it reminds me of new orleans recipe or a mexican dish. or in the philippines, this could be a chicken a la king. although the chicken here is a whole slice. i love it. and i will try this. my wife loves corn and i reckon this will be a hit!

  • Lori said...

    I saw your post over at 5 star, wonderful recipe! I love that chicken marinade and I have to try making creamed corn from scratch. I never really liked the canned version, but I have a feeling this one is much better!

  • ♥¸¸.•*¨Skip to Malou¨¨*•.¸¸♥¸ said...

    Your make-over dish looks refreshing! It looks very creamy yet you said you didn't use cream at all. Clever!
    I used to cook a similar dish when I was still single. I remember whenever I served something creamy, my family thinks it's "gourmet" haha! Little did they know that my friends at Del Monte did half of the job since their cream of corn did the trick... haha!

  • 5 Star Foodie said...

    I already have the ingredients on my shopping list for next week! This is a wonderful recipe and thank you so much for sharing it with my readers! Thank you also for the linkbacks to the other 5 star makeovers!

  • UrMomCooks said...

    Ha! Luv to see a makeover of creamed corn! It is SO good homemade, and can be SO bad otherwise... Try a little spot of cream cheese in there sometime...pretty good stuff! Also luv the chili pepper treatment - I'm going to give that a try! (PS - Ur road trip post inspired me to try one too! Thanx!)

  • Phyllis said...

    Oh, how I love creamed corn. I can't wait to try making it from scratch! I haven't had it in forever too (Kris, like Mr Noodle, it not a big fan of creamed corn, but I think I might be able to convert him with this recipe, THANKS!!)

  • sophia said...

    SWEET CORN SAUCE!!!! That is marvelous! So Asian, so good! My mom never gives recipes, either....not because she doesn't want to, but because she just cooks intuitively like your mom!

  • Lori Lynn said...

    I bet it tasted awesome. We are big fans of aji amraillo here. I look forward to trying your recipe and hello to Mama.

    Thanks for the link to Taste With The Eyes. It sure is an honor to participate in this event.
    Lori Lynn

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Thank you for the great comments!

    Kat - Thanks! I'm loving sweet corn season!

    Chef E - I grew up with canned creamed corn, even in dessert, so it wasn't a flavor stretch for me. But definitely, homemade is ever so much better!

    Shandy - I have my husband's grandmother's recipe box and the recipes in there are pretty amazing. Like you, I feel that the more I cook and grow into my kitchen, the more confident I feel about making changes. So glad you liked this post!

    Diva - Thank you! This homemade version turned out great, thanks to some fantastically sweet corn.

    Dee - I only wish I hadn't wussed out on the chiles by deseeding all of them. But it gives me good reason to make it again!

    Lisa - I think that's a fair trade! 8-)

    Girlichef - Thank you! I can't wait to dazzle my mom with scratch creamed corn!

    Ziggy - Thanks! It definitely has a different feel to it, although I was quite surprised to see that the chicken/creamed corn combo was quite popular in HK. So curious about the origins. Hope you'll give it a try!

    Lori - Thanks for coming by here, too! Fresh sweet corn makes all the difference - texture is better and no added sugar!

    Mysimplefood - Thank you! Glad you like!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Malou - Del Monte is our friend! I love creamy sauces and no wonder we might consider it gourmet - so rich! But that's right - no cream in this. It's all just a bit of flour and milk, and the corn itself.

    5 Star Foodie - Thank you, thank you, thank you, for letting me join in!

    UrMomCooks - Yay! Always happy to provide a spark of inspiration! I'll have to give cream cheese a try next time. Homemade, especially with great ingredients, just can't be beat!

    Phyllis - This was so easy to make, even though you still have to cut the kernels off the cob. Well worth the effort!

    Sophia - Our moms sound so similar in the kitchen! And yes, this is so Asian, isn't it - comfort food!

    Gera - Thank you! It was so great of Natasha to invite me to participate. 8-)

    Unplanned Cooking - The corn is so sweet and wonderful right now! I don't think I'll ever go back to canned. 8-)

    Lori Lynn - Thank you so much! It was a pleasure to be included in such a group. I'll be sure to pass along your hello to my mother. 8-)

  • Jenn said...

    That totally sounds like my mom. hehehe... she's the queen of shortcut cooking in my household and I wouldn't know if she used the canned stuff either. lol.

    Nicely done!! I love creamed corn. I could eat it up any time.

  • Trissa said...

    Creamed corn is one of my ultimate comfort foods - I usually enjoy it more than my main course when it's served... On top of that chicken - it looks fantastic - a great match...

  • Brenda said...

    Cool. :) Have never heard of pairing chicken and sweet corn, and I have to admit I was a little cautious when I first read it, but seeing the finished product(and especially the addition of the aji) I am definitely curious to try it!

    Love the sweetcorn picture. Very aesthetically pleasing. :)

  • Forager @ The Gourmet Forager said...

    So similar to one of my favourite childhood dishes: chicken and creamed corn soup! My dad swears I would've died of starvation had it not been for this soup - apparently I wouldn't eat much else. How things have changed since then though!

  • Midge said...

    I remember growing up with a similar dish: pork chops breaded with panko and fried till crisp with a creamed corn and mushroom sauce on the side! Ah, memories...

  • Bren said...

    Nice work with the corn. I recently did a sweet corn puree with spicy shor ribs for Dean & DeLuca and it was great! Anything with corn during the summer is a great treat. Nice write up and thanks for the link back to us that participated.

  • Jescel said...

    I saw your post in the Saveur magazine! Awesome.. congratulations. It was your picture that drew me and lo and behold, it was yours! So yummy! and just so happens, I love, love corn!


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