Elote (or Grilled Mexican Street Corn) is an easy side dish that will be a favorite for years to come!
Welcome to elote – your new favorite way to eat corn! Elote is Mexican street corn grilled to charred juiciness then slathered with a creamy chili, cilantro, lime sauce then dusted with Cotija cheese. It tastes like a fancy side but SO EASY so it’s perfect for all your potlucks and barbecues. Elote Mexicano is prep ahead friendly, gluten free, makes fabulous repurposed leftovers and is always a hit!
Let’s indulge in corn season a little longer with Elote! I am a huge fan of corn – and its diversity. You can enjoy it fresh grilled, in corn salsa, in black bean corn salsa (coming soon), in corn salad, cornbread, Southwest salad, chicken taco salad, beef taco salad, burrito bowls, soups, and on and on. But when you want a more indulgent, flavor poppin’ side, it’s time for elote.
Elote Mexicano is a fabulous side for any occasion. You can easily whip it up for your adoring family at dinner time, for snacks, late-night snacks, for potlucks, barbecues, pool parties, etc. and it will always be a hit AKA everyone will be giddy over this sensational treat.
I have to admit, even though I live in San Diego, California, I didn’t try elote corn until I was a young adult. I was a bit skeptical of the combo – but with one bite my doubts were gone and now it is a repeat favorite.
The seasoned mayo/sour cream sauce melts into saucy deliciousness as it gets slathered on the hot corn. The chili powder, cayenne pepper, garlic add just the right kick, while the lime juice and lime zest awaken all the flavors, and the Cotija cheese adds a salty punch. What we’re left with is sweet, smoky bursts of corn, a creamy kick of heat and bursts of tangy lime.
So, let me be clear, elote Mexicano is HEAVEN. And this elote recipe is heaven in your home!
What is Elote?
While American “grilled corn” traditionally means grilled corn with butter and salt, Mexican grilled corn (elote) is synonymous with grilled corn, enveloped in mayonnaise and Mexican Crema with cilantro, lime and chili powder then rolled in chihuahua or Cotija cheese.
Elote is often advertised as Mexican street corn because it is possibly the most popular street food in Mexico. It has also become increasingly popular in America, sold at festivals, fairs and Mexican restaurants.
Elote corn is often served skewered on a stick for on on-the-go cuisine, but you can skip the skewer if you pick up cobs with longer stocks.
While many vendors have different version of elote, this recipe sticks with the classic flavor profile of elote Mexicano to deliver you the BEST elote recipe out there that you need in your life – and in your belly.
For this elote recipe, I wanted Mexican elote that was delicious and easy. And THIS elote recipe hits all of the right notes.
- The elote corn is grilled directly on the barbecue to achieve the Maillard reaction for maximum smoky flavor.
- The corn is first brushed with chili powder and salt infused oil before grilling to prevent it from drying out and for the corn to soak up flavor.
- The elote is then brushed with a mayonnaise and sour cream sauce spiked with garlic, lime juice, lime zest, cayenne powder, chili powder, cumin and paprika – hello FLAVOR.
- Finally, the elote is rolled in cotija cheese to achieve bites of sweet, smoky, salty, creamy, juicy and utterly addicting. Welcome to elote.
- The corn is husked and then grilled so most of the prep can be don ahead of time.
- Instead, you may also purchase husked corn for ultimate ease.
- Instead of sprinkling each corn individually – and in two separate steps – with cilantro and chili powder, I’ve added the cilantro and chili powder directly to the creamy sauce for a one step slather and even distribution.
INGREDIENTS & SUBSTITUTIONS FOR MEXICAN ELOTE:
- CORN: For the best elote corn, you want the freshest corn possible. Fresh corn is both sweeter and juicier and can often be found at farmers markets. To find the freshest corn, you want to focus on the smell and feel of the corn rather than the look of the kernels. The corn should smell sweet and the be firm when pressed and free of blackened tassels.
- VEGETABLE OIL: Use vegetable oil or another oil with a high smoking point that is neutral in flavor.
- MAYONNAISE: While it might sound odd, I promise the mayo is heavenly! Think of it more as the base of a creamy dressing. You don’t taste the mayo but all the flavor that is added to the mayo. The mayo is needed because it acts like a glue to adhere the cheese to the corn. Please use real mayonnaise and not miracle whip. I highly recommend full fat. If you are vehemently opposed to mayonnaise, you may substitute with sour cream, but it has a tendency to slip off the corn easier. I don’t recommend swapping it with Mexican crema as crema is thinner than both mayonnaise and sour cream.
- MEXICAN CREMA OR SOUR CREAM: Both will work great in this recipe so if you already have sour cream on hand, use that. If you aren’t familiar with Mexican crema, it is soured and thickened cream (basically heavy cream and buttermilk) that tastes milder and less thick than sour cream. It can often be found next to sour cream or in specialty markets. Look for crema Mexicana, which is typically the thickest crema variety sold, for the best sticking power. If you want to go all sorts of non-traditional, you may substitute Greek yogurt, but I would omit the lime zest as Greek yogurt is tangier than sour cream or Mexican crema.
- LIME: You will want fresh lime juice for this elote corn because we are also going to be using the zest of one lime. It gives the corn a fabulous fresh, tangy, zesty flavor. Avoid using the white pith from the lime as it has a bitter instead of tangy flavor.
- CILANTRO: Adds a zippy, tangy, zesty pop to the elote Mexicano. Measure the cilantro by pushing ½ cup cilantro leaves (and some stems) into the measuring cup until finely packed and then chop. Of course, you can use more or less to taste. I like to add most of the cilantro to the crema and then reserve a little to sprinkle over the top purely for aesthetics.
- SEASONINGS: Chili powder and salt infuse the vegetable oil with flavor and therefore the elote corn with flavor. Additional chili powder, garlic powder, ground cumin, smoked paprika, pepper and cayenne pepper infuse the crema and therefore the elote with flavor.
- COTIJA: Is known as “Mexican Parmesan” because it is wonderfully salty, hard, and crumbly. It is traditionally found with the specialty cheeses and should be readily available. If Cotija isn’t available, substitute with queso fresco and if that’s not available then substitute with Pecorino Romano. Pecorino Romano is saltier and tangier than Parmesan which is milder and nuttier.
HOW TO MAKE ELOTE
Step 1: Shuck Corn
- Peel off the outer leaves of the corn until you only have one layer of leaves remaining around the ear.
- Grasp the tops of the leaves and the tassel together in one hand and pull down firmly in one motion all the way to the bottom.
- Snap them off the leaves and silk.
- Clean the cob by picking out any remaining silks.
Step 2: Prepare Stations
- Station 1 – Sauce: Add all of the creamy sauce ingredients to a large plate and stir to combine. I like to use a plate or something shallow so I can place the cob directly into the sauce.
- Station 2 – Cheese: Evenly spread cheese crumbles on a separate plate.
Step 3: Oil Corn
- Whisk Chili Oil ingredients together on a large plate.
- Add corn one piece at a time and brush evenly.
Step 4: Grill Corn
- Grease and heat grill to high heat.
- Once hot, add corn and close the lid.
- Cook 2-3 minutes on each side, rotating the corn until all of the sides are lightly charred, about 10-12 minutes, closing the lid in between rotations.
Step 5: Assemble
- Immediately after removing corn from grill, working with one piece of corn at a time, transfer corn to plate with mayonnaise mixture and turn and brush to evenly coat. I like to turn to coat, then use a brush to remove any excess and create a thin layer.
- Transfer corn to cheese plate and sprinkle all over corn.
- Garnish with additional cilantro if desired. Serve immediately.
Can I Bake or Boil Corn for Elote?
Authentic elote boasts the smoky char of the grill (thus the name Mexican GRILLED Corn), but you can boil or roast your corn instead:
TO ROAST CORN for ELOTE:
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Place a baking rack on top of prepared baking sheet.
- Place corn brushed with oil directly on the baking rack.
- Bake for 35 minutes or until corn is tender, turning half way through.
TO BOIL CORN for ELOTE:
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Add corn and cook 8-10 minutes or until tender.
- Carefully drain corn and pat corn dry.
TIPS FOR ELOTE CORN
- Use fresh corn immediately. Fresh corn is the sweetest and juiciest used within the first 1-2 days. The sugars begin converting to starch soon after the corn is harvested. Make sure you store your corn in the refrigerator to stall this process.
- Shucking tip. You can microwave your corn for a minute or two before shucking which will make stubborn silk come off easier.
- Purchase shucked corn. If you want to save some time making elote Mexicano, purchase already shucked corn – no dealing with all that pesky silk!
- Grilled corn vs boiled corn. I highly recommend grilling your corn for this elote recipe because you will not only get sweet and juicy but complex and smoky flavor and it soaks in more flavor from the lime and seasonings. That being said, if you don’t have a grill, you may boil the corn or roast it in the oven.
- Prepare stations first. We want both the sauce and cheese stations read to go before you grill the corn because you’ll want to assemble the Mexican elote as soon as it comes off of the grill.
- Use a pastry brush. This will help you create a thin layer of creamy sauce instead of a goopy one – because remember, a little goes a long way!
- Sprinkle cheese, don’t roll. I don’t recommend rolling the elotes in the cheese as the cheese gets really clumpy after mixing with the mayo/sour cream mixture. Instead, it is best to lean the tip of the elote corn on the cheese plate with one hand so it’s not touching the cheese and sprinkle the cheese on top with a separate hand.
- How to serve. I recommend small bowls of extra chili powder, cilantro, lime wedges and Cotija, so individuals can customize their elote.
Elote in a cup
Elote in a Cup (Mexican Corn in a Cup or Elote en Vaso) is a popular way to enjoy your favorite elote Mexicano off of the cob. This is a popular alternative when serving a large crowd or you want the elote completely prepared before guests arrive. Elote in a Cup also gives you the option to use canned corn when fresh corn is not in season.
To make Elote in a cup:
- Grill corn per instructions then slice of corn.
- OR if using canned corn: heat one tablespoon olive oil in large cast iron skillet over high heat. Add the corn and cook, stirring occasionally, until corn starts to char, approximately 5 minutes (a few minutes longer if frozen).
- Transfer kernels to a large bowl to cool so they don’t continue to cook.
- Stir in mayonnaise, sour cream/Mexican crema, seasonings, lime juice, lime zest, cilantro and cotija cheese.
You may also serve the Elote in a Cup bar style in which you would mix in the mayo, sour cream, spices, lime juice and lime zest directly into the corn and let individuals garnish with desired amount of cilantro and Cotija cheese. You can also include other toppings in the toppings bar such as tomatoes, avocados, olives, red bell peppers, jalapenos etc.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH ELOTE CORN?
- Fruit Salad: every potluck or barbecue needs fruit salad to go along with their elote, and both my Pina Colada Fruit Salad and Perfect Fruit Salad with Honey Lime Vinaigrette are crowd favorites.
- Sides: Mexican elote is the perfect complimentary side to other potluck favorites such as potato salad, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, and cornbread.
- Salad: every dinner is exponentially better with elote corn and salad! Italian pasta salad, Greek pasta salad, creamy bacon pea pasta salad, grape salad, strawberry salad, spinach berry salad, cowboy pasta salad, etc. are all favorites.
- Mexican Main Dishes: Mexican elote is excellent with all sorts of Mexican main dishes such as: fiesta lime chicken with avocado salsa, Baja fish tacos, Brazilian steak kabobs, steak fajitas, California Burritos, salmon with mango salsa, cilantro lime shrimp tacos, tacos al pastor and on and on!
- Potluck Main Dishes: Elote Mexicano is also a crowd pleaser at every barbecue with main dishes such as grilled barbecue chicken, pineapple chicken, souvlaki, Nashville hot fried chicken, BBQ brisket, barbecue ribs, BBQ chicken kabobs, grilled buffalo chicken, Cajun honey mustard chicken, chicken gyros, Hawaiian sloppy Joes.
- Dessert: keep the Mexican feast alive with the ultimate churro recipe!
HOW LONG IS ELOTE MEXICANO GOOD FOR?
- SERVE: Elote is best served right away while still warm and should be refrigerated after 2 hours.
- LEFTOVERS: You can slice the corn off the cob and serve in any of my leftover ideas below.
- STORE: Place elotes on a plate and cover with plastic wrap or foil. Store in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.
CAN YOU REHEAT MEXICAN ELOTE?
Elote is best served fresh for the juiciest corn and the brightest flavors. Still, you may reheat elote with these different options:
- Microwave: Place elote corn on a microwave safe plate and cover with a damp paper towel. Microwave for 20 seconds followed by 10 second intervals until warm.
- Oven: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wrap elote in foil and bake for 5-7 minutes or until warm.
HOW TO USE LEFTOVER ELOTE
If you happen to have the pleasurer of leftover Mexican elote, there are number of ways which you can use it. Here are just a few ideas to use elote once removed from the cob:
- Salsa for tacos: Garnish your favorite Mexican Chicken, carnitas, carne asada etc.with elote corn, pico de gallo and avoado crema etc. all stuffed inside a tortilla.
- Topping for everything else! Stripped leftover elote can garnish your favorite burrito bowls. fajitas, salads, etc.
- Stuffing for burritos: Mexican elote is delicious in chicken burritos, beef, bean and cheese burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas, etc.
- Corn salad: Leftover elote Mexicano can also be stripped from the cob and eaten as a salad. You can enjoy it in its simplicity or add black beans, bell peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, etc.
- Add to cold grains: Add stripped elote corn to quinoa, couscous, or rice to make it a quinoa/rice corn salad along with additional olive oil/sour cream/mayo and seasonings.
- Add to warm grains: Alternatively, you can add sliced elote to warm Mexican rice, Cilantro Lime rice or Avocado Rice along with optional cheese and black beans.
- Make it a meal! Slice off elote and make a corn salad a meal by adding rotisserie chicken, Mexican chicken, chipotle chicken, chili lime chicken, beef barbacoa, ground turkey, ground beef, etc.
- Pasta: Add stripped elote to zoodles or other pasta/noodles with a little Greek yogurt.
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