How to Make Yimm’s Sweet Corn Salad

Aya Amornpan turned to sweet corn when brainstorming unusual items to serve at Yimm, her new home-style Thai eatery that opened recently in Rockridge.


Photo by Lance Yamamoto

There aren’t many products that herald the height of summer produce better than fresh sweet corn. And here in northern California, we’re lucky to have access to one of the West Coast’s most popular corn-growing regions: Brentwood.

The cool Delta nights common in and around the east Contra Costa city helps enhance sugars, leading to particularly sweet corn. Area growers like Paul Stonebarger of G&S Farms also take meticulous care to hand pick sweet corn at the precise point when sugars are at their peak and before it turns starchy.

“It’s the detail that we put into our product, along with the soil and weather, that makes Brentwood corn special,” he said.

Aya Amornpan, co-owner of Imm Thai in Berkeley, turned to sweet corn when brainstorming unusual items to serve at Yimm, her new home-style Thai eatery that opened recently in Rockridge. The sweet corn salad she came up with offers a spin on the traditional Thai papaya salad in which corn is swapped for papaya to add sweetness and crunch to the characteristic tang of a dish that typically layers in lime juice, fish sauce, and dried shrimp. Originally a seasonal addition, the salad has proved to be so popular that Amornpan is considering making it a permanent fixture on the menu, so long as she can source good corn.

“Green papaya doesn’t have a lot of taste in itself,” she said. “The corn has the nice texture and a sweet taste that’s a good combination with the lime and fish sauce. I think it makes the dish more interesting.”

Amornpan generally sources her corn from Berkeley Bowl or Monterey Market. However, Brentwood corn is widely available in the East Bay during peak season — roughly from June through September — including in larger grocery stores such as Whole Foods and Safeway.

When picking out corn, look for fresh, green husks that fully envelop (and don’t fit too loosely around) the ear. As for the practice of peeling back that husk to take a closer peek? Go for it, said Stonebarger.

“The best way is to grab the corn by the silk on the top end and make sure there are no empty kernels at the top,” he said. “That will let you know that the ear is nice and full.”

But don’t completely remove the husk unless you plan to eat it right away. Corn can be stored for more than a week in the refrigerator and the husk helps protect the flavor. It also acts as a shield when broiling or grilling corn (make sure to soak the husk in water first). An even easier way to get your corn fix is to steam it with the husk on in the microwave.

As for how to eat it, well the options are nearly limitless, said Stonebarger.

“Salt and butter; Parmesan cheese; Tapatío; Mexican street corn with mayonnaise lime and chili powder; I like to put it in my wife’s tortilla soups. That’s just to name a few.”