When the cold evenings get you thinking about a warming supper, but there’s still farm fresh corn in the market, corn chowder is our favorite way to ease into autumn. This version combines sweet corn and smoky bacon in a creamy broth, dotted with lightly poached shrimp and sliced jalapeños to soothe the end-of-summer blues.
What happened to summer? It seems as though the season just started, and its bounty had only yesterday begun to fill the supermarket shelves. Just like that, it’s all done for another year. Fortunately, even the Northeast still has plenty of farm fresh corn to offer – a cornucopia, you might even say – and we’ll take up our supermarket’s “12 corn cobs for $4!” offer as long as we can. This aren’t the tiny, young cobs from July that we could almost eat raw – at the end of the season, while corn is still pretty tasty, but not really at its peak, it’s a fantastic ingredient in a soup or stew. Hence: shrimp and corn chowder.
In fact, we not only cut the kernels from the ear, but we also dig a little deeper into the cob to extract as much of the corn milk as possible from the base of each kernel. This is a great way to maximize the amount of flavor we get from the cob and also adds a nice body to the soup base.
Cut the kernels off with a sharp knife (into one bowl) and then run the back edge of a knife tightly down the cob to extract the remaining liquid and pulp (into a 2nd bowl). We add the pulp at the beginning of the cooking process, giving it a chance to release its flavor and thicken the stock. Then we add the raw kernels when the soup is close to being ready, so they stay crunchy and fresh.
Note: If you’re substituting frozen corn, pulse 1 cup of the kernels in a food processor until they’re mashed but chunky and use that in place of the corn milk puree.
The final results will look a little like this. There’s not much milk, even from 6 ears, but it’s well worth the effort of getting it out.
The other base ingredients for this dish are leeks and potatoes – what we call the Ole Reliables of the chowder world. You could also use chopped yellow onion instead of the leeks, though we love the delicate leek flavor. For the potatoes, the waxy red-skinned variety are the best choice since they hold their shape as they cook and take on a silky texture. Use small ones cut in half, or larger ones chopped into bite-sized pieces.
We added a smoky touch with chopped thick-cut bacon, and rounded off the whole affair with fresh, lightly-poached shrimp. The briny shrimp pair beautifully with the sweet corn and salty bacon, mimicking the seafood element in a classic clam chowder, but with much less work. Finally, we topped ours with a little sliced scallion and jalapeño pepper for a spicy garnish.
The key to this corn chowder, as with so many things, is timing. Most of the ingredients can be left to simmer for a while, but the shrimp only need a couple of minutes to fully cook. You could even turn off the flame under the chowder and cook the shrimp in the carryover heat, just until they’re pink. Don’t overcook them, or they may turn rubbery. In fact, if you plan to make this soup for a couple of nights in a row, with leftovers, only add as much shrimp as you plan to eat on each day and poach the shrimp just before you’re ready to serve.
And that’s our farewell to summer corn in the form of a fall corn chowder – an old friend clothed in the guise of a new one, like a Doctor Who regeneration story where she’s still wearing the jacket of the old fella. But it’ll be back! Oh yes, one day, it’ll be back. Until then, there’s always frozen.
Smoky and Creamy Corn Chowder with Shrimp
- 6 ears corn husks and silks removed (about 4 1/2 cups of kernels, 750g)
- 5 slices thick-cut smoked bacon chopped into 1 inch pieces (about 200g)
- 2 large leeks cleaned and chopped (about 150g)
- 4 medium garlic cloves minced
- 1 jalapeño ribs and seeds removed if desired, finely chopped, plus a few thin slices for garnish, if desired
- 1/4 cup dry sherry or white wine (2oz)
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 25g
- 3 cups homemade or low-sodium chicken broth 24oz
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk or half and half 20oz
- 3/4 lb. red potatoes scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves or 1/4 teaspoon dried
- 3 ounces cream cheese
- Coarse kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- 1 pound medium or large shrimp peeled and deveined
- 2 scallions finely sliced, for garnish
- Stand corn on end in a large bowl. Using a large knife, cut kernels from cob (you should have about 4 1/2 cups, total); and set aside. Then into a 2nd smaller bowl. firmly scrape any pulp and milk remaining on cobs with back of knife (you’ll have about 1 cup pulp).
- Sauté bacon in a Dutch oven or large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, until crisp and golden brown, about 7 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.
- Reduce heat to medium-low, add leeks and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeño and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add sherry and cook until evaporated, about 2 minutes. Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, gradually add stock. Add half and half and bring to a boil. Add potatoes, bay leaf, thyme, corn pulp and cream cheese; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes are almost tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add reserved corn kernels and return to simmer for 5 minutes. Add shrimp and simmer until shrimp are opaque and just cooked through, 3-5 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into serving bowls, sprinkle each bowl with some scallions, reserved bacon and a couple of jalapeño slices.