In Cambodia, I was rewarded by some of the best grilled corn I’d ever tasted. Served outside the Angkor Wat temple complex by Sray Much, a grill mistress with an incandescent smile, it was smoky, with pandanus leaf-scented coconut milk brushed on to accentuate the corn’s innate sweetness. Pandanus leaf has a fresh, aromatic flavor that may remind you of pine needles.
Step 1: For each ear of corn, strip the husk back, leaving it attached at the bottom. (The action is a little like peeling a banana.)
Step 2: Next, with each ear of corn, use a strip of corn husk to tie the remaining husks together under the ear to form a handle. Remove the corn silk.
Step 3: Combine the coconut milk, palm sugar, pandanus leaf or bay leaf, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat and let simmer gently until the sugar dissolves, 3 to 5 minutes. Taste for sweetness, adding more sugar if necessary. Remove the pan from the heat and let the basting mixture cool to room temperature.
Step 4: Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat it to high.
Step 5: When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Place the corn on the hot grate and grill it until nicely browned on all sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side, 8 to 12 minutes in all, turning with tongs. Start basting the corn with some of the coconut milk mixture after a few minutes and baste it again several times as it grills.
Step 6: Baste the corn one final time, transfer it to a platter or plates, and serve.
Coconut milk, the heavy cream of the tropics, is available in cans at most supermarkets. Look for unsweetened coconut milk; one good brand is Chaokoh.
Pandanus leaf is the slender, sword-shaped leaf o the screw pine; it’s used as a wrapper and flavoring in Southeast Asian cooking. You can find it dried in Asian markets, but a couple of bay leaves will give you similar flavor.
Palm sugar is the sweetener of choice in much of Asia; light brown sugar is similar in texture and flavor.