An Ode to Elote, the Simple Street Food You Can Make in Your Kitchen
Victor Medina of NYC Mexican eatery Casa Tulum delves into Mexican corn on the cob
According to The Mexican Restaurants of New York City project — a website curated by Latinx historians at Stony Brook University that maps the history of Mexican food in NYC from 1930 to the present day — there were nearly 1,000 Mexican restaurants operating in the five boroughs as of summer 2020, not including food carts. From tamales and tacos to tortas and Mexican pizzas, there are hundreds of different dishes being served up on the tables, across the counters and through the windows of those eateries. But of the multitudes of Mexican dishes that are available to New Yorkers, there may not be one that’s simpler or more satisfying than elote.
Named for the word elotitutl (“tender corn”) from the Aztec-based language Nahuatl, elote is essentially charcoal-grilled corn on the cob that’s slathered with a creamy sauce made from mayonnaise and crumbly cotija cheese and seasoned with chile powder and lime juice. Sure, there are variations, and the heat level of the chile powder can make a big difference, but the core components of elote — grilled corn and a creamy cheese sauce — are constants.
At Casa Tulum in the Seaport, the Mexican corn is served off the cob with Tajin seasoning — a blend of ground chili peppers, salt and dehydrated lime juice — and a fairly standard sauce made of mayo and cotija. Even though it isn’t quite the same as the elote he grew up eating off of carts in Mexico, Casa Tulum partner Victor Medina says the dish tastes like home.
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“In the countryside of Mexico, elote is very traditional,” Medina tells InsideHook. “Before all the new street food, corn on the cob was always the number one snack for families, especially low-income families. You go to soccer, you go to church and when you finish those chores, you’re eating elote. I still love elote today, and the way we prepare it is very close to my memories. We do it the traditional way.”
According to Medina, different regions in Mexico will use different spices and toppings for their elote based on what’s readily available in the area, but the killer combo of mayonnaise and cotija is always present on the corn. “Some people in Mexico City have started using Cheetos,” he says. “People in northern Mexico are using pepper from their area. We try to use ingredients from the Yucatan area. It goes by realms, but the base is always the mayonnaise and the queso. Cotija’s texture holds very well to the elote with the mayonnaise after you shave it. It’s a saltier cheese, and it’s very easy to put on top of corn. That’s basic and how you eat it almost everywhere.”
When you eat it, well, that’s up to you. “We don’t recommend it as an appetizer,” Medina says. “We suggest having it alongside your meal or even as a dessert. If you don’t like sweets, it’s a perfect choice as a salty dessert. In Mexico, I usually have elote after I dine because it’s not really enough to fill you up, but it’s a satisfying bite. It’s like an after-dinner treat.”
Next time you’re making dinner, serve up Casa Tulum’s elote recipe for dessert.
Casa Tulum's Elote
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 5 mins
Total Time: 25 mins
- 6 ears of corn, still in the husk
- 5 liters water
- 2 limes
- 6 oz. mayonnaise
- 5 oz. queso cotija
- 1 Tbsp. chile piquin
Place the corn in a pot of boiling water for 15 minutes.
Remove corn from boiling water and remove husks from the corn.
Once cleaned, place corn on the grill and rotate after one minute until the corn is smoky and maintains a grilled exterior all the way around.
Spritz the corn with freshly squeezed lime juice and lightly coat with mayonnaise.
Bathe corn with queso cotija, then sprinkle with chile piquin and Tajin seasoning.
For extra spice, try some habanero salt.
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