Special equipment: six 8-ounce brulee dishes or flameproof ramekins; a kitchen blowtorch (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Cut the kernels from the ears of corn. Cut each corncob into 3 pieces.
Melt the butter in a large saucepot over medium heat. Stir in the corn kernels and 1 teaspoon salt. Saute until just tender, about 5 minutes, being careful not to let the corn or butter brown. Add the corncobs, coconut milk, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook at a simmer for 15 minutes.
While the mixture simmers, combine the sugars in a blender or food processor, blend well, and set aside.
Remove and discard the corncobs. Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend on high speed until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, pressing with a silicone spatula to obtain all the pulp; discard any remaining solids. Whisk in 1/2 cup of the sugar mixture, the milk, eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla until thoroughly mixed. Adjust the seasoning to taste with salt, if needed.
Divide the mixture among six 8-ounce brulee dishes or flameproof ramekins, filling them to just below the rim. Place the dishes in a roasting pan or large baking dish. Pour water into the roasting pan to come about halfway up the sides of the dishes. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and carefully transfer it to the center rack of the oven. Bake until just set, about 35 minutes.
Remove the dishes from the pan. Refrigerate until well chilled.
Spread a thin layer of the remaining sugar mixture on top of the baked custards (you may not need it all). Caramelize with a torch. Or place the custards on a baking sheet and caramelize under a preheated broiler. Serve immediately.
Propane gas torches are highly flammable and should be kept away from heat, open flame and prolonged exposure to sunlight. They should be used only in well-ventilated areas. Follow torch manufacturer's instructions for use.
When blending hot liquid, first let it cool for five minutes or so, then transfer it to a blender, filling only halfway. Put the lid on, leaving one corner open. Cover the lid with a kitchen towel to catch splatters, and pulse until smooth.
"The Flavor Matrix: The Art and Science of Pairing Common Ingredients to Create Extraordinary Dishes" by James Briscione © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2018. Provided courtesy of James Briscione. All rights reserved.