Having grown up in New England, I'm no stranger to chowder. My grandfather used to make a Manhattan-style chowder every 4th of July, and you could get really great creamy New England chowder at any number of clam shacks down along the southern coast of Rhode Island. Those cute little restaurants by the beach have always been one of my favorite things about my little state, and every summer I insist on at least one trip down for clam cakes and chowder (preferably the cream (or milk) based New England version, which has always been my favorite). Shane and I live in the northeast corner of RI, but that's another nice thing about residing in the smallest state - we can drive across the entire state and be down at the beaches on the coast in under an hour :)
It's entirely possible corn chowder is also popular somewhere in New England, but I have no idea where. I don't know that I've ever even had it in my life, and if I have, it clearly wasn't very memorable. Recently I was flipping through magazines trying to figure out something to make for lunch the following week when I came upon this corn chowder. I've been all about sweet corn the past few weeks, and I loved the idea of making a big batch of the chowder over the weekend and then having a quick and easy lunch the rest of the week.
The very first step in making this chowder is to remove the husks and silk from the ears of corn, and then cut off the kernels and scrape the pulp. I won't lie - it was tedious, and I found myself doubting whether this chowder would be good enough to make it worth the work. Since I'm sharing it today, you've probably already figured out that it was. Dare I say, it might be the best chowder I've had?! The corn is truly the star - its sweet flavor shines, and is complemented nicely by smoky bacon and fresh herbs. The addition of corn juice - the product of squeezing every last bit of liquid from the pulp that you scraped from the cobs earlier - is the final step in ensuring the chowder is super fresh, it's basically liquid gold :) I usually get bored when I eat the same thing day after day, but I so looked forward to my lunch every single day this chowder was on the menu!
Summer Corn Chowder
from Cook's Illustrated, July/August 2011
8 ears corn
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, finely chopped
4 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
5 cups water
3/4 lb Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
3 tablespoons chopped chives
Remove the husks and silk from the corn. One at a time, stand each ear of corn up in a large bowl and use a chef's knife to cut the kernels from the corn. Then, hold the ear over a second bowl, and use a vegetable peeler to firmly scrape any remaining pulp from the cobs into the bowl. Repeat with all 8 ears of corn.
Spread a clean kitchen towel over a medium bowl. Transfer the pulp to the towel, and then wrap the towel tightly around it and squeeze as much corn juice as possible into the bowl. (Note: the recipe said it'd be about 2/3 cup but I only got about half of that, and it turned out fine so I wouldn't stress quantities too much.) Discard the pulp that's left in the towel.
Set a large Dutch oven over medium heat and add the butter. Let it melt, then add the onion, bacon, thyme, salt, and pepper. Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion has softened and is just starting to brown around the edges. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Gradually add the water, whisking constantly. Bring the mixture to a boil, then stir in the corn kernels and potatoes. Bring the chowder to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15-18 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.
Transfer 2 cups of the chowder to a blender and puree until smooth. Stir the puree back into the pot. Add the half-and-half then return the chowder to a simmer. Turn off the heat under the pot and add the reserved corn juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and if desired, add up to 1 tablespoon of sugar. Garnish bowls of chowder with the chives before serving.