If I was a smarter blogger, I would’ve posted a good old-fashioned downloadable back-to-school menu for you today (like I did when I was my best blogger self back in 2013) complete with strategies, under-30-minute tricks, and cook-once-eat-twice kind of ideas that make up the backbone of family cooking. You have my word that I will try to be smarter tomorrow. For now, I feel a strong urge to tell you about the corn chowder I made on Sunday night, which really felt like Saturday night because of Labor Day and because the kids had a houseful of friends. It poured all day in New York and I don’t think the mercury tipped past 65 — not exactly the most romantic way to send off summer. Instead of optimizing the neighborhood pool’s last open weekend, or the backyard Weber for that matter, I was inside wearing slippers making soup. Not chilled soup. Hot soup.
What the what?
At least it was hot soup that included fresh, sweet, summer corn, which any minute now is going to go the way of the pool and the Weber, i.e. gone. I came home from the market with a bushel of ears and since I didn’t really have a plan for them, I did what I usually do in these situations: I pulled down Michael Anthony’s V is for Vegetables from the shelf. He had a recipe for a beautiful silky corn soup made with coconut milk which looked delicious, but it was a single ingredient in the recipe that intrigued me more: corn stock. Anthony is the world-renowned chef at Gramercy Tavern, but world-renowned or not, he’s a chef, which most likely means he is obsessed with squeezing every last bit of flavor out of everything that comes through his kitchen. In the case of corn, this translated to boiling the skinned cobs in water with aromatics and salt to create a sweet, milky corn-concentrated stock. And yes, “corn-concentrated” are the two words you need to hear most in this world when it’s early September in New York.
How I ultimately ended up using it as the launching point for corn chowder with shrimp, I’m not really sure, though I’d be willing to bet some New England vacationer I follow on instagram or Facebook posted a photo that lodged deep into the pleasure center of my memory. Who knows how I got there — the important thing is that I got there. The stock not only doubled down on the corn flavor, but the milky starchiness added a natural thickness. I was all set to drizzle in a little cream into the soup at the end, but I didn’t because it was completely unnecessary. And true, while the recipe isn’t exactly a quick-and-dirty weeknight dinner (you know I don’t usually ask you to make your own stock on a Tuesday) it was something I wanted to make sure I shared before the corn window of opportunity closed. Whether that’s tonight or this weekend.
This is a riff on a stock from Michael Anthony’s V is for Vegetables. In his recipe, he also calls for 1 stalk lemongrass, halved and 3 thin slices fresh ginger, which felt right for a stock that would be added to a coconut milk-based soup. For a basic chowder, though, I kept mine simple.
3 corn cobs, kernels reserved
1 leek (white part), halved lengthwise
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon salt
Cut the corncobs into pieces. Combine cobs, leek, and garlic with 3 cups of water and simmer in a medium saucepan for about 20 minutes. Stir in salt, then strain. Corn stock keeps, covered in the refrigerator, for up to 5 days or frozen for about 3 months.
Corn Chowder with Shrimp
I struggled with the right way to incorporate the cooked potatoes and shrimp without using a hundred pots. (Since this gets a puree, they need to be added late in the game, after the cooking has been done.) I could’ve just called for “cooked shrimp” and “boiled potatoes” and feel free to add shortcuts wherever you see fit, but figured I’d incorporate every step in here so you’d know what you were in for.
2 small red or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, cut into bite-size cubes
1 pound medium shrimp (about 20 pieces), peeled
1 slice smoky bacon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek (white and pale green parts), halved lengthwise and chopped
red pepper flakes to taste
salt and pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, minced
4 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 5 ears)
2 1/2 cups corn stock
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
fresh basil or chives, chopped
baguette, for dunking
Add potatoes to a medium saucepan and cover with water by about 2 inches. (You will use this water to boil your shrimp, so keep that water level in mind.) Simmer until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove potatoes to a bowl and add shrimp to the same hot water. Simmer until cooked through about 3 minutes. Drain and set aside. In a medium soup pot over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp and fat renders. Remove and chop into pieces. Add oil, leeks, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to the pot, and sauté until leeks are softened. Add garlic, cook for one minute, then corn kernels, tossing to coat in oil. Add corn stock and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off heat. Using an an immersion blender, process until smooth. (You can also process in a blender, but if you do this please make sure the soup has cooled almost completely or else you might have an exploding blender situation on your hands.) Stir in Worcestershire sauce, cooked potatoes and shrimp and heat until everything is warmed through. Serve in bowls topped with bacon bits, herbs, and baguette slices.
Look at that genius technique. As the kids would say: hawt. (No eye-rolling, kids.)