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Marco’s Roasted Street Corn Gratin

By Dennis Linden
Image of Roasted Street Corn Gratin Esquites
Here is the perfect side dish to give your Cinco de Mayo table that traditional touch, submitted by our own Chef Marco Zapien. For many years Marco has coordinated the culinary needs of large events in the Sports & Entertainment sector of Melissa’s business. A menu item at Marco’s Salsa Grill and Taqueria in Pico Rivera, California, Marco shares this dish for readers outside Southern California. For you locals, there is still time to book a table before the big celebration or anytime! For Marco, this dish is always seasoned with wonderful memories.

"Growing up, our annual church carnival always had the elote man on site. The anticipation of knowing that I was going to cross paths with the elote man was the culinary equivalent of a kid's anticipation of waiting for Christmas! So, I thought I would play with the traditional recipe a little and make something that would recreate the flavors of street corn with just a little twist to the preparation and presentation. This dish would pair perfectly as a side dish to a nice steak. In fact, I believe that the cheesy richness of this dish could easily replace any of the side dishes usually served at an upscale steak house, but I admit to being a little prejudicial."

Corn is as big a part of Mexican culture as apple pie is in the United States. Scientists and historians believe the ancient pre-Colombian people living in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico, roughly in the modern-day states of Veracruz and Tabasco, were the first to develop corn about 5000 to 7000 years ago. The kernels were much smaller than modern kernels and were much farther apart than what you find today. As time went on, this crop spread north and came to be known as maize. Indian Nations throughout both North and South America came to depend upon this crop to supply much of their food. Columbus was amazed to “discover” corn, as no similar substance was known to Europe, even though it had long been used in the Americas.

Street corn has its roots as a vendor item in Mexico City. The Spanish word for corn is “elote” – street vendors offer corn on the cob slathered in butter, mayo, Mexican cheese and chili powder. Marco’s dish is a version of this only when the corn is shaved off the cob; it’s called “esquites”. Traditionally prepared with chicken broth and herbs, Marco puts his unique signature on this favorite with some supporting flavors from Melissa’s pantry of tasty sauces and seasonings and adds an international touch with a gratin topping. This French technique takes this traditional street dish to another level—like about the 3rd floor!
Image of chef Marco
To see Marco’s profile on this site, go to Test Kitchen under About Us. Since the details of Marco’s culinary career are already covered there, Marco was asked to give a behind-the-scenes snapshot of the most memorable experience at a large event to give the reader a better understanding of what it means to be, as his website profile states, “in charge of Sports & Entertainment venues at Melissa’s.”

"That would have to be two extremely exciting as well as challenging events at the Americas Center in St. Louis. The first one was in 1999 when Pope John Paul II visited. The whole week prior was nonstop breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for set-up crews, visiting dignitaries, cardinals, you name it! There was little sleep, but what a great feeling it was to be in the building with His Holiness. Also, during my time in St. Louis, we did an event for Microsoft that required breakfast and lunch, three days straight, for 12,000 people! Definitely a few sleepless nights in St. Louis with good memories!"

Chef Marco claims to really enjoy chasing a golf ball when he has the time. That qualifier of spare time is rarer than truffles for a busy chef who runs his own restaurant and keeps involved with Melissa’s sports and entertainment endeavors! More credibly, Marco does enjoy dining out with friends and family. If for no other reason than to be served a meal for a change without having to prepare it! It’s also a chance to check out the competition to see what other chefs are creating.

Lastly, per that old adage that one is judged by the company one keeps, we ask all participants in this blog who is the one famous person, living or from history, they would most want to share a meal with at their own table if they could. Marco’s answer was the same as this writer’s, so the best response to date!

"I would love to have a long, one-on-one dinner with the late Anthony Bourdain. He brought so much to the industry and definitely had the best job on earth! Eating and drinking all over the world sounds like something I, or any other chef, would dream of doing. No doubt the evening would be peppered some great tales about the food, drink and people he experienced in his travels. It would have been a blast!"

Marco, do not forget to include a “20-something” at that table. That is a good 20-something single malt, of course!

Roasted Street Corn Gratin Esquites
Image of ingredients
6 cobs of corn, husked
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ cup queso ranchero
½ cup shredded mozzarella
2 tablespoons Melissa’s Costa Azul Hot Sauce
1 ounce lime juice
¼ cup mayonnaise
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 ½ cups panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup melted butter
½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
2 stalks green onion thinly sliced (green only)
1 teaspoon Melissa’s Don Enrique Pico De Gallo Seasoning

Image of grilled corn
Place the whole husked cobs in a large bowl and toss with oil, salt and pepper. Grill until slightly charred, then remove from the flame and let cool.
I mage of corn and cheese mix
Using a chef’s knife, shave the kernels off the cob and place in a mixing bowl. Toss the corn with queso ranchero cheese, mozzarella, Costa Azul sauce, lime juice, and mayonnaise.
Image of corn mix
Mix the panko with melted butter and parmesan cheese. Place the corn mixture in a baking dish and top with the panko crust. Bake until panko is crisp and golden brown about 15 minutes.
Image of corn mixture in baking dish
Remove from oven, sprinkle with diced green onions and Melissas Don Enrique Pico De Gallo Seasoning. Enjoy!
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