Make it your way!
This chowder recipe is best with all fresh vegetables from the corn to the chives. However, if these are not available, you can substitute with what you have on hand. In winter, use not-quite-so-new red potatoes, frozen local corn, and freeze-dried chives. My big swap from the way my mother made this (in addition to not using bacon) is to use leeks rather than onions, but if they are not available, a mix of yellow and purple onions works nicely.
A good chowder has a milky base, not the thick consistency you get from a heavy flour roux. Let your vegetables be the star, don’t cover them up with a flour paste! That’s how my mom did it, and it’s good enough for me as well. She often used the New England standby of canned evaporated milk, and occasionally I use this as well (an organic skimmed variety). It brings me back home.
However, times change, and one of my favorite ways to make this is with lite coconut milk, different can, same creamy consistency! If you don’t tell anyone they will never guess it is dairy free. Don’t use the full fat variety unless you want “Coconut Corn Soup” the flavor is much more pronounced. You can also substitute any other white milk substitute, or any % milk you like.
For even more corn flavor, you can cook the potatoes and corn directly in the milk, light cream, or half-and-half and omit the water.
1 tbsp. corn or olive oil
3 cups diced leeks or mix of yellow and purple onions
2 lbs. new potatoes, diced, not peeled
OR, 1 head cauliflower, cut into little ½ -inch chunks
6 ears fresh sweet corn, lightly roasted or grilled
The cobs from those ears
Smoked paprika to taste, optional
1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pint half-and-half or light cream
1 cup water, or so
A little more pepper
A little butter
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.
Plan-ahead shortcut:Alternately, I’ve roasted the corn one day for a meal, made extra, and saved the rest (cobs and all) for the next day’s soup. In a pinch, I’ve used raw corn, and it is still remarkable.
In a large stockpot, over medium high, heat the olive oil and add the diced leeks or onion. Sauté until tender, but not brown, and sprinkle with a little smoked paprika if desired. Let this mingle for a few minutes and add salt, pepper, and the potatoes.
Add half the corn, and just enough cold water to nearly cover the potatoes. Add the cobs; it’s all right if a few stick out of the water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer on very low heat for one half hour. Check the potatoes to make sure they are done.
Remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes, tightly covered, while warming the cream. Once warmed, fish out the cobs. Add the remaining corn kernels, and stir cream into the soup. Add butter to top and let melt, sprinkle with the chives and, if you like, more paprika. Serve hot. Makes 10 one-cup servings!
Bacon? It’s a New England classic to include bacon, my mom always did, but in our family, there is a bacon debate. Some, like me, prefer corn chowder without bacon; the smoke flavor from the paprika is quite a good substitute. A compromise is to offer some local, nitrite- and cruelty-free bacon, crisp and chopped up, for folks who eat meat to sprinkle on top. Everyone is happy. If you all eat bacon, sauté a few cut up slices along with the onions.
Dairy-free? You can use your favorite milk substitute to cream this up, or use an immersion blender to smooth out the consistency.
A little lower carb? Substitute diced cauliflower for the potatoes to cut down on the carbs a little, but there is no substitution for the corn. It is, after all, corn chowder!