Maque Choux

Corn on the cob and summer go hand-in-hand. This one-dish recipe takes the golden stunners to a new level with zesty peppers and a touch of smoke from the grill.

Maque Choux
Photo: Carrie Honaker
Active Time:
20 mins
Total Time:
45 mins
Servings:
8

I moved to the South when I was 20. I supported myself and my young son in kitchens and behind bars while I finished college.

During that time, I worked for a colorful British chef who held Sunday Suppers for the staff at his house, catered by himself and his Haitian-born, New Orleans-raised wife. I showed up one Sunday to a newspaper-lined picnic table strewn with crawfish and a Dutch oven roiling away on the grill. I had my first bite of maque choux that day.

It was a spicy medley of corn, peppers, and onion tossed with tasso ham. It was my first real taste of Cajun food, and I was hooked. Over the years, I refined my own version of maque choux, including smoking the corn and integrating dried herbs. It's now a staple at my summer barbecues.

History of Maque Choux

Most attribute maque choux to Louisiana and Cajun influence, but likely the dish originated much earlier, with Native Americans, and was adapted by settlers of Louisiana. The name, pronounced "mock shoe," could be from the Cajun French term maigrchou, translated as "thin child," referring to the addition of cream to thin out the dish. It could also be a French interpretation of the name for a Native American dish made with one of their indigenous "Three Sisters" crops, corn.

Some food historians cite the Acadian French, often referred to as Cajuns, who immigrated from Canada in the late 1700s down to Louisiana as the bringers of maque choux to the South. Likely, Native Americans introduced them to dishes like succotash, made with their staples of corn, beans, and squash, which then became significant ingredients in dishes developed in the South. Event today, corn is an integral part of crawfish and shrimp boils, and is found in many other Southern specialties.

Still, a staple of Native American culture and foodways, corn is celebrated with the annual Green Corn Ceremony, signifying harvest, renewal of seasons, and gratitude for what the land provides.

Ingredients for Maque Choux

Corn
Fresh corn is the heart of this dish. You could use frozen corn if fresh is out of season or just not available. You could also sub in canned corn, but fresh highlights the seasonal ingredient, and the firm texture of off-the-cob kernels is the star.

The best part of using corn on the cob is the "milk" you can extract from the cobs. Plus, for this recipe, the grill imparts a smoky flavor you can't get from roasting or boiling. The milk is extracted by running the back of your knife along the cob once you have stripped the kernels. With a little pressure, the natural milk will release.

I like the flavor of grilled corn. I keep the husks on, peeling back a layer, trimming the silk to prevent fire flaring up, and then put on direct medium heat for about 20 minutes. You'll know it's done when the husks start to brown with grill marks.

corn cooking on grill
Carrie Honaker

If you don't have a grill or are just short on time, you could roast your corn in the oven. Be sure to set it on high heat, 400°F, and leave it in until husks begin to brown, about 30 minutes.

Peppers
Most traditional maque choux recipes call for bell peppers, and often green were used. I like the sweetness of a red bell pepper to amplify the sweetness of the corn, and the color gives great visual interest for presentation. I also incorporate a poblano pepper to complement that smoke you get from grilling the corn and give the dish a little heat.

Onion
I like Vidalia onions for this dish. They tend to be sweeter than yellow or white, but not as sharp as red onions.

Cream
Maque choux would not be complete without liquid. Many refer to this dish as a "jazzed" up creamed corn, and it sort of is. I like the velvety texture heavy cream provides as a finishing agent, but you could sub in chicken stock, or even milk, if you wanted a lighter version. You may need to increase simmer time to reduce more of the liquid if you go that route.

Bacon
I use thick cut, smoked bacon. It adds another layer to that smoky profile I'm building, and the thick crisps of bacon add a nice textural counterpoint to the tender vegetables.

I do drain off half the grease once it is crisped so the dish doesn't feel too oily. I leave the bacon and remainder of the grease right in the pan with the vegetables, making it an easy one-pot dish.

Another fun variation on the bacon is tasso ham, a spicy, smoked, and cured meat found in lots of Louisiana dishes.

Butter
I like to melt butter in my pan before adding the vegetables. You could use cooking spray if you're looking to go lighter, but the butter adds flavor to the final product. It also lends creaminess to the maque choux.

ingredients for maque choux on a cutting board
Carrie Honaker

Traditional vs. Modern?

At its core, maque choux is a corn, peppers, and onion medley. Some of the base ingredients to build the flavor include bacon grease, milk or cream (either from the cobs or purchased), and salt and pepper. A traditional version of maque choux requires a double scraping of corn cobs to not only release the corn kernels, but the "milk" inside the cob.

Dairy was not used in Native American cooking, rather items like bear grease were used as cooking agents, and natural milks like those derived from the scraping of corn cobs provided liquid. In a traditional maque choux, bacon grease is the starting ingredient. Bell peppers and onions are then sweated out, and finally the corn is added along with liquid and any seasonings.

Modern variations contain everything from varied peppers like jalapeños and poblanos, to celery for texture, canned or frozen corn, even tomatoes. Others, like our Maque Choux with Sausage, add in the Cajun staples andouille sausage and okra to make a heartier main dish.

What to Serve With Maque Choux

Traditionally a side dish, maque choux complements a Pork Roast with Carolina Gravy or anything on the barbecue. It's also ideal when thrown in a container for a day at the lake.

You can also add in chicken, beef, or pork to make a substantial one-pot main dish. In Louisiana, you can often find crawfish or shrimp mixed in with maque choux for Cajun flair. It also makes a tasty addition to your next batch of cornbread; just be sure to account for the liquid in the recipe.

maque choux is a bowl
Carrie Honaker

Ingredients

  • 6 ears of corn, one layer of husks peeled back, silks trimmed

  • 4 Tbsp. butter

  • 2 celery stalks, diced

  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped

  • 1 small poblano or jalapeño pepper, diced

  • 1 medium-sized Vidalia onion, chopped

  • 8 slices of bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

  • 1 cup heavy cream

  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper

  • 1 tsp. dried thyme

  • ½ tsp. smoked paprika

  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Smoke corn in husks on a grill over direct medium heat. Turn a few times over 20 minutes, looking for even grill marks around the whole cob. Let cool, then cut off the cob over a bowl. Take a second pass with the blunt edge of the knife, pressing in to get some of the corn milk to release.

  2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Cook bacon until crispy. Drain half of grease, reserve for gravies or other applications.

  3. Melt butter in skillet with bacon grease. Add onion, celery, and peppers. Cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add corn, corn milk, and seasonings. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.

  4. Add cream to corn mixture, and simmer for 10 minutes, folding mixture to be sure liquid bathes the veggies. Once liquid has reduced slightly, take off heat.

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