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Favorite Corn Chowder

I can only assume that many of you hail from the Northeast, which is why I so hesitate to come down on one side of the chowder vs. chowder debate. There’s New England, milky and rich, and then there’s Manhattan, with a clear broth and plenty of tomatoes. Think Yankees vs. Red Sox: tensions run high.

But I’m not from New York, and I’m not from Boston, either. And ever since that Yankee kid snatched a ball straight from the hands of my Orioles and cost them the 1996 pennant, well, phooey. But I’m a peacemaker at heart. I don’t like these silly rivalries. And so, to celebrate the end of summer and the abundance (12 ears!) of corn in my fridge, I’m sharing my favorite chowder recipe, which — spoiler alert — combines the two varieties into one. I know, scandalous.

Here’s the deal: cobs become stock. Scallions, butter, and flour cook down into a ridiculous-smelling roux. Yes, we add some milk. But we also add — bu-dump-ching! — some sauced tomatoes. (If I’m being honest, I’d probably add some more next time around. I want the soup to be seriously pink.) Also, because I’m me, some hot chiles. That’s the broth.

As for the stuff, we’ve got corn, potatoes, carrots. Maybe some celery, if you’d like. And while I know some of you will balk at what I say next, there’s a secret ingredient in this corn chowder that gives it a deep, rich undercurrent of umami. Skip if it wigs you out, but I wouldn’t. It’s smoked anchovies. My friends Beth and Jeremy are the ones who taught me about the wonder of smoked anchovies: the first time I had them was when I ate chowder at their home last year. I just stocked up on a batch of my own, and I’m never looking back.

The result is rich, but not cloying. It’s got punch from the tomatoes and chiles, but it still tastes distinctly of corn. And since you’re asking, I’m telling: I’ll be serving this over the holidays. It’s the perfect dish to send summer off and welcome fall.

Favorite Corn Chowder

Notes: I used the liquid left over from juicing tomatoes before canning them. I liked that there weren’t any chunks of tomato, just the flavor. If you’d prefer some chunks, go for it. Either way, I think I’d up the quantity of tomato liquid next time, to make the soup truly pink.

As for the chile, I used fresh red chile, but next time I might play with some Asian chile paste, which would give the soup a red-orange tint and (hopefully) allow some of that oil to float to the top, the way it does in Asian soups. If you try it this way, definitely post in the comments.

6 ears of corn, cobs and kernels separated
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped scallions
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
3 smoked anchovies, chopped
1 cup crushed tomatoes or tomato liquid (I might use up to 2 cups next time, for a really pink soup)
1 Thai red chile or red jalapeno, seeds removed, minced (start with part and add to taste)
3 medium red potatoes, peeled and diced (about 2 cups)
3 carrots, coined (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 stalk celery, chopped, optional
chives or parsley for garnish

Prepare the stock: Put the corn cobs in a large pot with add 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 30 minutes, until the water smells deeply of corn. Remove the cobs, pour the broth into a big heatsafe bowl, and set aside. Leave the pot on the heat.

Make the broth: Add the butter to the pot, stir until it melts, and add the chopped scallions. Let the scallions cook for a minute or two, until the butter smells fragrant and they have softened slightly. Add the flour, stir until the lumps disappear, and stir frequently until the mixture turns golden and smells toasty.

Add the milk a little at a time, incorporating the roux into the milk until the mixture is entirely smooth. Then add the anchovies, tomatoes, and corn broth, stirring to combine.

Finish the soup: Add the corn kernels, chile, potatoes, carrots, and celery if using. Give the soup a stir. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat back to medium-low, and cook for 15-20 minutes, until everything is cooked and the soup looks creamy.

Taste the soup, and add salt, pepper, and chile to taste. I found my soup to be plenty salty after the anchovies and just a pinch of salt, which is why I don’t recommend salting the soup until the end.

Serve in big bowls with chopped chives and plenty of crusty bread or oyster crackers.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Anne August 27, 2013,

    COBS BECOME STOCK. Brilliant!! This looks like a perfect September treat.

  • Lynn August 27, 2013,

    Looks great! How many servings ? Can milk be skipped if more potatoes used? Thanks and shana Tova!

    • rivka August 28, 2013,

      Lynn, Great questions! This recipe serves 4-6, more if no one has seconds. I think you could definitely sub in an extra potato or two and leave out the milk. Or you could swap in almond milk, soy milk, or — especially if you’re doing Thai chile paste — coconut milk. Let me know if you try it!

  • Liz Rueven August 28, 2013,

    Smoked anchovies? Brilliant!
    What about making this a vegan (parve) delight? Ok to reduce the milk and switch in almond milk and Earth Balance margarine? I would likely kick up the heat a bit if the almond milk adds a little unwanted sweetness. Any thoughts? Happy holidays and here’s to more great cooking with like-minded eaters!

  • Canal Cook August 29, 2013,

    Anchovies are a great twist. This seems like a good compromise between the two traditions.