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Make this bright, creamy charred corn salad without firing up the grill

If you’re enjoying grilled corn only with butter and salt, you’re missing out. Take just one bite of Mexican street corn, called elote, and you’ll know why it has become wildly popular in the United States. A charred ear of corn is slathered with rich, tangy crema; coated with salty cotija cheese; sprinkled with chili powder; and finished with a squeeze of lime. This smoky, creamy, bright, salty ear has just one catch: It’s messy to eat.

Some vendors offer elote in salad form (esquites), with charred kernels layered or tossed with the garnishes. You get the ideal ratio of flavors and textures in every bite but with the convenience of a fork. We wanted to make a recipe for this flavor-packed side dish even when we weren’t firing up the grill.

To char the corn and give the salad its signature flavor, we turned to the stove. We cut the kernels off the cob so more kernels could come in contact with the heat, then cooked them in two batches, covered, to trap steam. After just a few minutes, the corn on the bottom was perfectly charred and the rest was juicy and tender.

It was time to dress the dish. Mexican crema can be hard to find, but a combination of mayonnaise, sour cream and lime juice produced a similar creamy tang and clung even better to the corn. To give our salad heat and bite, we stirred in some sliced serrano chile, chili powder, and garlic that we toasted in the empty skillet after cooking the corn. Finally, once the mixture had cooled, we tossed in cilantro, scallions, and some salty crumbled cotija cheese.

The next time we’re craving our favorite way to eat corn, we can make a batch in less time than it takes to fire up the grill.

Creamy charred corn salad

Recipe by America’s Test KitchenCourse: DinnerCuisine: Mexican




  • 3 tablespoons lime juice, plus extra for seasoning (2 limes)

  • 3 tablespoons sour cream

  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise

  • 1 to 2 serrano chiles, stemmed and cut into 1/8-inch-thick rings

  • Salt

  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

  • 6 ears corn, kernels cut from cobs (6 cups)

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder

  • 4 ounces cotija cheese, crumbled (1 cup)

  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

  • 3 scallions, sliced thin


  • Combine lime juice, sour cream, mayonnaise, serrano(s) and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add half the corn and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, without stirring, until the corn touching skillet is charred, about 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and let stand, covered, for 15 seconds, until any popping subsides. Transfer corn to the bowl with the sour cream mixture. Repeat with 1 tablespoon oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and remaining corn.
  • Return the now-empty skillet to medium heat and add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil, garlic and chili powder. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer garlic mixture to the bowl with corn mixture and toss to combine. Let cool for at least 15 minutes.
  • Add cotija, cilantro and scallions and toss to combine. Season salad with salt and up to 1 tablespoon extra lime juice to taste. Serve.


  • If desired, substitute plain Greek yogurt for the sour cream. We like serrano chiles here, but you can substitute a jalapeno chile that has been halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/8-inch-thick half-moons. Adjust the amount of chiles to suit your taste. If cotija cheese is unavailable, substitute feta cheese.
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