Corn chowder that has flavor
August 28, 2006
CONCORD, N.H. – Corn chowder shouldn’t taste like seafood chowder that somebody forgot to add the seafood to.
Trouble is, most do. The best are insipidly watery and flavorless. The worst are cloyingly thick with enough cream to induce a coronary. In the middle are those so overly spiced you could be slurping pork chowder for all you can taste.
Is it too much to ask that a corn chowder showcase just two things: the taste and texture of fresh corn? Setting that as my goal, I began devising a better batch. It was easier than expected.
Start with the corn. Only fresh ears will do. Not just because the kernels have so much more flavor: The cobs themselves play a key role in flavoring this dish, so save your canned or frozen corn for winter.
After the kernels are cut from the cobs, the cobs are simmered for 10 minutes. This infuses the chowder with intense corn flavor and draws out many of the juices left behind on the cobs.
Next, the base. While many recipes call for cream or half-and-half, I opted for whole milk. This gave me the richness appropriate to a chowder without overwhelming either the corn or the palate.
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Seasonings would be simple: a bit of thyme, salt and pepper. While cumin and even hot peppers are common additions, they feel more appropriate for a winter soup. I wanted this chowder end-of-summer friendly.
To help round out the flavors with a savory note, I used a base of diced yellow onion and garlic sauteed in olive oil. To that I added finely diced potatoes to give the chowder a bit more body.
For the potatoes, size matters. Nothing ruins a corn (or seafood) chowder faster than huge chunks of potato dwarfing what should be the star ingredient. Aim for corn kernel-sized potato chunks. This also ensures they cook quickly in the skillet.
A final note on thickness. If you prefer a thicker chowder, transfer half of the finished product to a blender and puree until chunky smooth. Return to the pot and stir to mix well.
(Start to finish 35 minutes)
4 cups milk
7 ears corn
2 T. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
11Ú2 cups finely diced potatoes (about 1 large potato or 2 small)
1Ú2 teaspoon dried thyme
4 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a large saucepan, bring the milk to a low simmer.
Meanwhile, cut the corn kernels from the cobs. To do this, stand each ear on its wide end. Use a serrated knife to saw down the length of the ear. Set kernels aside.
When the milk is warm, add the corn cobs and simmer 10 minutes.
While the cobs simmer, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over a medium-high heat. Add the onion, potatoes and thyme and saute about 8 minutes, or until potatoes are just tender. Add the garlic and saute another minute.
Remove the cobs from the milk and discard them. Transfer the potato and onion mixture into the milk. Add the corn kernels and simmer 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Makes 2 to 3 servings.