Easy Mexican street corn with frozen corn, also known as esquites in Mexico, will quickly become a favorite summer side dish salad for a potluck, BBQ, alongside chicken or ribs, or even as a delicious vegetarian lunch.
In just 15 minutes you can whip up the BEST corn esquites recipe starting with a bag of defrosted corn, Mexican cheese, and a quick homemade creamy lime-based dressing. Serve it as a cold salad or serve it as a hot skillet dish, we show you both ways, and boy is it a WHOLE LOTTA YUM!
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Esquite Corn is the perfect side dish!
You know a recipe is a winner when your entire family stands at the counter wanting to eat samples straight from the bowl. THAT was this recipe and we all gave it 5 stars! And you seriously can't make it any simpler by making Mexican street corn with frozen corn. Not only did we devour the entire bowl of the corn esquites, but I can honestly say this is the BEST street corn salad recipe we've ever tasted!
What is an Esquite?
Perhaps you've been to Mexico and have eaten authentic esquites served in a cup from a street vendor while on vacation, or you've had it in border towns like San Diego, or maybe you tried Mexican street corn salad at Disney.
However, if you haven't heard the term corn esquite before, it's the authentic Mexican term for a popular creamy corn snack served in a small cup. In the US, it's more commonly known as Mexican corn salad or street corn salad. The word esquites comes from the Nahuatl word ízquitl, which means "toasted corn." We tried to capture that toasted flavor by using a bag of defrosted microwave Trader Joe's frozen roasted corn, which seriously is so delish.
Street corn (or elote) is a popular corn dish on the cob served from street vendors in Mexico and corn esquites is the salad version.
Corn Esquites ingredients
Mexican corn salad made with frozen corn can literally be enjoyed all year long, no need to wait until August or September for that bumper crop of corn! It is perfect alongside any grilled meats, my favorite is either with grilled chicken or baby back ribs. No joke here, this will be my new go-to potluck and "must serve to guests" salad.
With just a handful of common ingredients and easy adaptions, this will become a regular go-to side.
You of course CAN start our corn esquites recipe with fresh sweet corn cut off the cob, or grilled corn, this is especially a great idea when corn is in season and can get picked fresh.
- frozen corn (regular or roasted corn) - We love Trader Joe's roasted frozen corn but any brand of frozen sweet corn will work. You can also swap canned corn.
- mayonnaise - We love Best Foods or Trader Joe's organic mayo but any favorite brand of yours will work. We don't recommend olive oil mayo in this recipe, it alters the flavor.
- sour cream - Greek yogurt makes a good substitute or softened cream cheese
- cotija cheese - A dry, crumbly, salty Mexican parmesan cheese with the texture of feta. To get that authentic taste, you really need to use cotija cheese. Some will use feta as a substitute but it won't taste quite the same but of course, will still be delish. You can also use freshly grated parmesan cheese or queso fresco, but that's wetter than cotija.
- lime juice - fresh limes only, concentrate just can't compare.
- red onion - red onion works best when you need onions to eat raw in a salad.
- fresh cilantro - using fresh chopped cilantro is common in the US when cooking esquites but it's not used in an authentic Mexican recipe. Green onions are good mixed in or as a garnish if you don't like cilantro.
- salt - we love fine sea salt, pink salt, or table salt work great too
- chili powder - great to add a tiny kick to the salad, sprinkle a little extra on as a garnish, or top the Mexican street corn with frozen corn salad with cayenne to go even spicier, or we also love to use Tajin, which is a Mexican spice mix with dried chilis, salt, and dehydrated lime.
Esquite Recipe variations
- Mix in more veggies such as zucchini, chopped kale, or top with cubed avocado or guacamole.
- Add in protein by mixing in cooked black beans, pinto beans, or high protein quinoa
- Serve the corn salad as a taco with pulled pork or chicken, on top of nachos, as a tostada, as loaded tots, or mix it into a potato salad or pasta salad.
- For a unique twist, sprinkle the corn esquites recipe with crushed hot Cheetos.
- Instead of serving it like a salad, serve it as they do in Mexico and make street corn in a cup.
- Why not make this on a Blackstone griddle or grill?
How to make Mexican Street Corn Off the Cob
Mexican corn salad can't get much easier than defrosting the corn, chopping and mixing in a few ingredients, and then topping it off with flavorful and colorful garnishes. We share how to make an easy room temperature salad with a bag of microwave defrosted corn or a hot dish for skillet Mexican street corn.
Microwave or Boil Option
Before you start, make sure the corn is defrosted and drained. You can either defrost it in the fridge earlier in the day, boil it on the stove, or microwave it in a covered dish with 2 tablespoon of water and cook on high for 4+ minutes. Drain the corn before using it in the recipe.
Put the defrosted corn in a medium to large bowl.
Add all other ingredients to the bowl- mayonnaise, sour cream, lime juice, cotija, cilantro, finely chopped onion, salt, and chili powder.
Stir until all ingredients are combined. I like to taste a bite with a clean spoon before adjusting the seasonings. Since the juice of one lime can vary, sometimes it needs a little more fresh lime. Add more salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with chopped cilantro, green onions, chili powder, Tajin, fresh lime wedges, and more Cotija if desired. To add a spicy kick, sprinkle a pinch of cayenne pepper on top. Serve immediately at room temperature or chill it in the fridge if you want a cold salad. Enjoy!
Skillet Mexican Street Corn
To make a hot skillet Mexican street corn you're essentially making the exact same recipe as the room temperature esquites recipe, you're simply heating the corn and adding the cheese while the corn is hot to make a warm and melty version.
- Over medium high heat add a dab of butter and a drizzle of olive oil to a skillet (in equal parts). Cook defrosted corn until it's warm and cooked through. Turn off the heat.
- Stir in the mayo, sour cream, lime juice, cotija, cilantro, onion, salt, and chili powder until the cheese starts to melt. Garnish with more toppings and serve hot. Enjoy!
What to Serve with Esquite Corn
- Grilled Meats: Esquite corn pairs well with grilled meats such as steak, pork chicken, or shrimp.
- Tacos: Transform your esquite corn into a filling for tacos. Warm up some tortillas, spoon the esquites into them, and top with your favorite garnishes like avocado slices, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime.
- Quesadillas: Spread a layer of esquites corn over a tortilla, topping it with shredded cheese, and then folding it in half. Cook the quesadilla on a griddle or skillet until the cheese melts and the tortilla turns crispy. Serve with salsa or guacamole for dipping.
- Mexican Rice: Combine Mexican street corn with Mexican rice for a flavorful side dish.
- Salads: Use the Mexican corn as a topping for salads. Consider mixing it with other ingredients like black beans, cherry tomatoes, and diced bell peppers.
How to Store Corn Esquites
- Store: Transfer the esquite corn to an airtight container or cover the original container tightly with plastic wrap. Place it in the refrigerator, where it can be stored for up to 3 days. Make sure the esquites are completely cooled before refrigeration.
- Freeze: If you want to store esquite corn for a longer period, freezing is a great option. Firstly, allow the esquites to cool down completely. Then, transfer them to a freezer-safe container, leaving some space at the top for expansion. Alternatively, you can use freezer bags, removing as much air as possible before sealing them. Label the containers or bags with the date for easier identification.
Mexican Frozen Corn FAQs
Some people just can't get cotija cheese or honestly, others just don't like it. While we actually LOVE cotija cheese and usually have some in our cheese drawer, some people say it smells like stinky feet to them and they just can't eat it.
Feta cheese is a popular Cotija cheese substitute, they don't exactly taste the same and there truly isn't an exact substitute for this amazing and tangy cheese, but feta gets close. And while Cotija is considered a Mexican parmesan cheese, it doesn't exactly taste like parmesan either!
While we made esquites as a Mexican street corn frozen corn recipe, you can definitely substitute drained canned corn or fresh corn off the cob (cooked first of course). Ears of corn yield about ¾ cup of corn each.
You can also make a corn on the cob version by drizzling the dressing over freshly cooked ears of corn.
The roasted corn flavor from the frozen corn we used adds a nice zing but it isn't essential if you can't find roasted frozen corn at your local grocery store. Trader Joes DOES carry roasted frozen corn kernels but I haven't checked at other grocery stores.
Mexican street corn is called Esquites in Mexico, which comes from the Nahuatl word ízquitl meaning toasted corn.
Elote and esquite are both popular Mexican street foods made with corn, but they differences in their presentation and prep.
Elote refers to a whole ear of corn on the cob that has been grilled or boiled and then dressed with various toppings. The corn is usually slathered with mayonnaise, sprinkled with chili powder or Tajín seasoning, and finished off with a squeeze of lime juice. It is commonly served on a stick, making it convenient to eat while on the go.
Esquite, on the other hand, is a dish made by removing the kernels from the cob and cooking them in a skillet or pot with butter or oil. It has similar toppings as Elote but Esquite is typically served in cups or bowls and enjoyed with a spoon.
More Mexican Recipes
- Easy Taco Soup
- Chili Verde Chicken Casserole
- Mexican Corn on the Cob
- Chicken Pozole Recipe
- Air Fryer Fajitas
- Air fryer taquitos
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