When I spy sweet corn at the farmers market — truly, one of summer’s happiest sights — my thoughts immediately turn to chowder.
OK, I’m initially consumed by the prospect of straight-up corn on the cob. With lots of butter. Summer at its best, right? But then, bring on the chowder.
I was introduced to this highly flavorful sweet corn chowder recipe when my friend John clued me in to what is now my dog-eared copy of “The Daily Soup Cookbook.”
That was — yikes — 15 years ago, and in all that time, the recipe has never failed to impress.
Not that I haven’t tweaked the formula. I like to load up on the starring attraction, so I’ll use 10 or 12 ears instead of eight, making room by removing a potato. I’ve subbed in half-and-half for cream, or I’ve cut the amount of cream in half.
Simmering the ears in the vegetable broth is an effective flavor-doctoring step, so don’t skip it. But there have been times when I’ve forgotten to follow through on the purée action, and you know what? The planet continued to rotate on its axis.
If I’ve got some time on my hands — and I really want to pile on the sweet corn flavor — I’ll buy another half-dozen ears. After husking and de-silking, I’ll carefully run the blade of a thin and very sharp knife through the kernels, breaking them open.
Then I’ll hold the ears over a large bowl, and, using my hands, squeeze the kernels’ milk into the bowl, then pass the milk through a fine-mesh strainer. (Alternately, I’ll remove the kernels, purée them in a blender and strain the milk.) It’s added at the same time as the cream, a cool, summery jolt of flavor that also enriches the chowder’s body.
As for the zucchini, it’s really there as a color booster; after all, does zucchini really taste like much of anything? When I’m cutting the zucchini, I’ll discard the flesh and dice the more rigid skin.
And while this chowder is perfectly delicious as is, I like to offer a few like-minded garnishes along the lines of cilantro or crumbled bacon. If I happen to spy some great-looking cherry tomatoes at the farmers market — particularly Sungolds, those orange-colored, candy-like treats — I’ll halve or quarter them.
To round out the meal, I’ll toast slices of a rustic bread, rubbing them with garlic, brushing them with olive oil and topping them with heirloom tomatoes and basil. Sometimes burrata, if I remember to buy it.
Another bonus? This is one of those chowders that tastes just as good — if not better — the next day.
Planning (way) ahead
For those who prefer their sweet corn straight-up, here’s a friendly word of advice: Don’t overcook it.
Also, don’t forget that sweet corn begins to lose its sweetness the minute it’s picked, so the faster it travels from field to kitchen, the better.
This corn-on-the-cob cooking method is pretty darned foolproof. Here’s how: Remove the husk and silk, place the ears in a large pot and cover with cold water. Transfer the pot to the stove, over high heat.
Once the water begins to vigorously bubble, remove the pot from the stove and carefully drain the water. Reach for the butter, then start eating.
During winter, I find myself daydreaming about this chowder. It finally occurred to me that, with a little advance planning and preparation, I could tuck a stash of peak-season sweet corn into the freezer, and celebrate August in January.
It’s easy. Follow the above cooking process, with one key addition: While the sweet corn is blanching, set up a big bowl filled with ice water When the sweet corn has properly cooked, transfer the cooked ears to the ice water bath and allow them to cool.
Dry the ears on paper towels, then cut the kernels from the ears. Spread the kernels on large shallow pans and refrigerate until completely cool, then transfer the pans to the freezer.
Once the kernels are completely frozen, transfer them to tightly sealed freezer bags or containers.
It sounds like a pain, but it’s not. Besides, the payback is huge.
Think about it: When the snow is howling outside your kitchen window and you’re in the mood for a hearty soup, this chowder will revive the flavors of summer, in a big way.
Follow Rick Nelson on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib