Kitchen Garden Journal
- Published on Thursday, September 08, 2011, 02:38
- Written by Tim Wilcox
Corn chowder is quite possibly the world’s perfect soup. It’s sublime in its simplicity and infinite in its variability. I’ll give you the basic principles and a few ideas for jazzing it up, but I leave the rest to you.
2 Tbsp cooking oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 large potatoes (russets, yellows, reds, doesn’t matter), cut in ½ inch cubes
½ cup white wine
4 ears fresh sweet corn, scraped off the cob (about 2-3 cups), cobs reserved if using fresh
6-8 cups water or stock
Salt & Pepper
1 cup heavy cream, optional
Parsley or cilantro, minced, for garnish
Working over a shallow bowl, cut the corn kernels off the cob. Put the cobs in a small saucepan (break them in half if necessary), and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for 5-10 minutes, then strain off the liquid and reserve. This gives you a nice, simple base for the soup and captures all the flavor from the corn that might have been wasted.
In a soup pot, heat the oil and gently sauté the onion over medium heat until just beginning to brown and stick. Add the potato cubes and continue to sauté for about a minute. Add the wine and allow it to cook off, scraping the residues from the bottom of the pot to dissolve them. Add reserved corn liquid and half the kernels and simmer until the potatoes are cooked, about 15 minutes.
At this point you have a couple of options: you can either puree it (using an immersion or stick blender is best), not puree it, or partially puree it. For me, it depends on the type of potato I’m using. If I’m using russets, I like to peel them first and then just blend them into oblivion because they create just the silkiest textured soup imaginable. With reds and to some extent yellows, it can be nice not to peel them. Some people just like a chunky soup, but I think chowder should be creamy, so I give it a partial puree. Just stick the blender in a corner of the pan and go half way. Best of both worlds. Nice and creamy but with little chunks of tender potato to grab onto.
Hint: please make sure the potatoes are actually cooked before pureeing. Chowder with crunchy potatoes is disgusting.
Okay, now it’s time to finish the soup. Add the remaining corn and simmer for 5 minutes until al dente. Reduce heat to low and add the cream, if using, and heat until just simmering. Season to taste and serve, garnished with a little cilantro or parsley or chives.
Nothing goes quite so well with corn (or chowder) than fresh seafood, and my favorite way to make this soup is to add shrimp, specifically Maine shrimp. You’ll have to wait until January for them to come into season, so you’d better freeze your corn now. For this version, use the shrimp peels to make the stock, and add the peeled tiny shrimp about 2 minutes into the final five minutes of cooking.
Many types of seafood can be used in this soup to great effect. Let your imagination run wild. Maybe add some diced red bell pepper, Old Bay seasoning and a container of crab meat for a Marylandish version. Or some chunks of cod or haddock, a personal favorite of mine (don’t fully puree the base for this one, and don’t forget the bacon). Squeeze some lemon on there. Or simmer it in some Narragansett, I really don’t care.
Corn also begs to be dressed up in Mexican flavors. Instead of cream, make a puree of lime juice, garlic, cilantro and sour cream and drizzle that in at the end and garnish with hot sauce. Or use some roasted poblano peppers or green chilies and throw some cheddar cheese in there.
I mean, this would also be great with red curry paste and coconut milk. Simmer it with a stalk of lemongrass and garnish with Thai basil. The shrimp would be awesome in there as well.
So yes, my friends, this is a soup that really wants to please you, whatever mood you happen to be in. All you need is corn, onions and potatoes and a little bit of imagination.