It’s August and the corn is abundant and sweet. What could be better than a traditional New England chowder, with the addition of a little Cheddar.
When Corn Season is upon us, I hunter-gather at all the farm stands near home and buy a couple of ears from each. Then I cook them and taste. Most years, there is a standout favorite, and it’s almost always organic and grown just a few miles from my home!
At the beginning of the season, first corn is usually a little disappointing. But some years, from the first bite, it is Corn Heaven, and that’s the way it was this year! Corn at the beginning of September is usually really sweet, but as the season wears on, it can become starchy. Farmers often grow more than one variety, and stager their plantings, so you just have to taste, and taste again.
When I was growing up, our corn chowder was always the same. Sautéed onions and bacon, potatoes, corn, water, and canned evaporated milk. The soup was not thickened with a roux, but it was still creamy and delicious from the starch from the potatoes and corn. We loved it, and mom was able to feed a crowd for little money.
Let’s change things up a bit
I changed up mother’s recipe over the years, using different milks, although evaporated milk still makes a lovely chowder and you can get this skim and organic and always have it on the shelf to use in creamed soups.
The thickening in this soup is egg yolks. This lends a velvety creaminess, but does not make it too thick and gloppy! I omit the bacon and use a touch of smoked paprika in its place; the bacon is not missed at all, and everyone in the family can eat it if I use a dairy substitute. However, it really is delicious with the light cream!
Vermont Cheddar, of course
I had a little container of grated cheese in my refrigerator that was left over from another recipe, so I thought this might make an interesting addition. I’ve never added cheese to this chowder before, and I was worried that the sharp Cheddar might compete with the corn flavor. I added a little at a time until I got just the right balance. I loved the addition of the cheese, and will definitely keep this technique!
Of course, you’ll want white Vermont Cheddar for this! Here in the Green Mountains, we are particular about our Cheddar, we want it white (we don’t bother with the orange food coloring from the annatto seed which creates the color in other cheeses from other areas of the country), and we like it sharp!
You can also dress this up even more by adding some crab meat, scallops, or clams, but that’s another story!
Corn & Cheddar Chowder
1 tbsp. corn oil
2 tbsp. butter
3 cups diced leeks or sweet onion
1 small sweet red pepper, minced
2 lbs. new potatoes, diced
6 ears fresh sweet corn, roasted or grilled (about 3 cups)
The cobs from those ears
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika to taste, optional
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups milk
1 pint light cream or half-and-half
2 large egg yolks
6 ounces sharp Vermont Cheddar cheese
Lightly roast or grill the (locally grown, extremely fresh) sweet corn for about 8 minutes, it will finish cooking in the soup. Roast or grill them with most of the husks on, and then peel them off. Cut the corn from the cobs, and cut the cobs in half and reserve.
(You can plan this step ahead. Roast the corn one day for a meal, make extra, and save the rest (cobs and all) for the next day’s soup. In a pinch, I’ve used raw corn, and it is still remarkable, although the char from the roasting adds dimension to the soup).
In a large stockpot, over medium high, heat the oil and add the diced leeks or onion. Sauté until tender, but not brown, and sprinkle with a little smoked paprika and turmeric if desired. Let this mingle for a few minutes and add salt, pepper, and the potatoes.
Add the corn, and the milk. It should nearly cover the potatoes. Add the cobs; it’s all right if a few stick out of the water. Bring just to the boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer on very low heat for one half hour. You can stop at this point and let the base set, cobs still in the water, and finish the soup later, so this is a good dish to make in the morning to this stage.
Once the potatoes are cooked, fish the cobs out of the pot and add the cream and continue to warm. Once up to a simmer, beat the egg yolks in a medium bowl and add a little of the broth slowly to temper the eggs. Once you have added a couple of ladles, return to the pot and gently stir.
Add the cheese, remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes, tightly covered, to allow the cheese to melt and mingle.
Top with a little more butter and a little more pepper.
Plate and garnish with chives or parsley, and, if you like, with little rings of sliced corn on the cob.
Serve hot. Makes 10 one-cup servings.
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