Thursday, August 30, 2012

Corn Chowder! Something to do with fresh corn...

Of course the best way to eat fresh sweet corn is to pick it, boil or roast it, slather it with butter and some salt, then eat it. Messily. With butter dripping down your chin. I grew up in southern lower Michigan, where a lot of farmers grow corn. Mainly dent corn, I presume, but sweet corn as well. There used to be a farm stand near my house when I was a kid (the same space now hosts a McDonalds and a strip mall) and the sweet corn was fresh and wonderful when it was in season. I've now lived in Oklahoma for 18 (!) years, and finding really good sweet corn around here can be a challenge. It's not really corn-growing country. If you're looking for okra, jalapeños, melons or tomatoes, we've got you covered. But sweet corn? Not so much.

So, with the corn in the grocery store looking anemic, possibly due to the drought in the corn belt, I thought I'd buy some and make some corn chowder. There's probably dozens and dozens of recipes out there (a quick internet search verified that), but really the basics come down to: corn, bacon, potatoes, onions, and milk. You can add flour as a thickener, or purée some of the chowder and add it back in. You can add celery, red or green peppers, chicken or vegetable broth. You can season with thyme, tarragon, basil, or just salt and pepper. You can use russets, or Yukon golds, or plain white potatoes. You can make it thick or thin. You can toss cheese or bacon bits on top of your bowl of chowder. I don't typically use a recipe when I make it (the same is true of a lot of soups), but I tried to keep track of what I did so that I could record it here.

I find that I often don't use a recipe when I cook. When I bake, yes, I tend to follow a recipe (although I often modify it as I go along), but when I cook I only tend to use a recipe when I make something completely new to me. I presume a lot of people who like to cook are like that, but I don't know. How about you?

Here's some corn chowder for a warm dinner.

Corn Chowder

5 ears sweet corn
2 large russet potatoes (or whatever you prefer)
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 oz (about 5 slices) bacon, cut into small pieces
2 heaping tablespoons of flour
1 teaspoon thyme (I like thyme, but it is fine to add less)
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 cups chicken broth
2 teaspoons salt (more or less to taste)
1 teaspoon ground pepper

   Cut the corn off the cobs. I used to do this by holding the cob upright and cutting down until I saw a Sara Moulton cooking show where a visiting chef left the corn longways on the cutting board and just slicing off the corn that way. Less messy, I think. But you can get the corn off the cob any way you'd like. I prepared the rest of the ingredients before beginning to cook.
   Use a largish pot. Fry the bacon over moderate heat until crisp. Remove bacon bits from the pot and set aside. Cook the onion until translucent (softened). Add the garlic and sauté a few minutes. Add the flour and cook until the fat is absorbed by the flour. I like my chowder on the thin side, so the 2 tablespoons of flour will only provide minimal thickening for that much liquid. If you like your chowder thicker, you can add more flour, but you will need to add more fat as well--about 1 tablespoon flour per tablespoon of butter or oil. Alternatively, you can take about 1/2 of the completed soup and purée in a blender, then pour back into the pot. The corn and potatoes which have been puréed will thicken the soup.
Everything chopped and ready to go!
Frying the bacon (mmmmm... bacon....)

Adding flour to the onions, garlic and bacon fat
(mmmmmm... bacon... oh wait, I already said that)

Cooking the raw ingredients in the chicken broth

   When the flour has absorbed the fat, slowly begin to add the chicken broth, stirring constantly until the flour paste is fully dissolved into the liquid. Add the corn, potatoes and thyme, then cook for 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are the consistency you prefer. Add the milk, cream salt and pepper then heat through. Don't let the soup come to a hard boil after adding the cream--that messes up the consistency of the soup. Finally, add the cooked bacon back in OR save to sprinkle on top of your bowl of soup. Chives are also a nice touch if you have them.

Ready to eat! I should have had some saltines ready...

1 comment:

  1. Next summer you will have to drive down to Webber's Falls on I40. They have sweet corn there that usually comes in the last week or so of June. They have quite a large farm and travel around to others towns to sell it. We used to get it in Poteau that way all the time. Anyway, probably the best sweet corn around these parts for sure...I highly recommend it..Kristina L..