Corn chowder is king of farmhouse chowders. Hundreds of recipes for it have been published over the years, but since corn and salt pork were staples of the American farm, it is likely that corn chowder was being made and enjoyed long before any recipe was ever printed. The oldest recipe I have come across is by Mary Lincoln, founder of the famous Boston Cooking School, in The Boston Cook Book (1884). Fannie Merritt Farmer, her successor, also published a corn chowder recipe in the original Boston Cooking School Cookbook (1896). A crop of corn chowder recipes followed Mary Lincoln's, appearing in cookbooks from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and just about everywhere in between. Some corn chowders were thickened with flour, others with egg yolks. Some, like Fannie Farmer's, used canned corn (which has been around since the mid-1800s), some used fresh corn. The use of milk, cream, or condensed milk also varies from recipe to recipe. The Shakers, members of the well-known utopian community, are renowned today for their austere yet beautiful furniture, but they were also highly regarded for their cooking skills, especially their farmhouse chowders. My version of corn chowder is made similar to the Shaker style, according to a recipe from the Shakers at Hancock Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts (1900), using fresh corn, butter, and cream. Its mellow, sweet flavor and lovely pale golden color is very comforting, and it is a big favorite with children as well as adults.
Since corn is the heart and soul of this dish, the success of your chowder will rely a great deal on the quality of the corn you use.
If you are making chicken stock or broth especially for this recipe, add the corn cobs (do not scrape them in this case) to that stock for more corn flavor.
Although potatoes help to thicken this chowder, I also use a bit of cornstarch to give it an extra smooth and creamy consistency. Mix the cornstarch and water to create a smooth paste, called a slurry, before you add it to the chowder.
The ground cumin adds an interesting but subtle contrast to the predominant corn flavor of this chowder. In the Southwestern-Style Corn Chowder variation that follows, the amount of cumin is doubled, letting it stand out even more. The small amount of turmeric brightens the chowder's color, making it a little more yellow.
Serve corn chowder as a starter, with toasted common crackers or Pilot crackers. Or serve with Sweet Corn Fritters, Skillet Corn Bread or Corn Sticks, or Anadama Bread on the side to add a delicious contrasting corn flavor to your meal.
For equipment, you will need a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot with a lid, a wooden spoon, and a ladle.
3 medium ears fresh yellow or bicolor corn
4 ounces slab (unsliced) bacon, rind removed and cut into 1/3-inch dice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion (7 to 8 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 large red bell pepper (6 to 8 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 to 2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped (1/2 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
1 pound Yukon Gold, Maine, PEI, or other all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 cups chicken stock or broth
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives or thinly sliced scallions
1. Husk the corn. Carefully remove most of the silk by hand and then rub the ears with a towel to finish the job. Cut the kernels from the cobs and place in a bowl. You should have about 2 cups. Using the back of your knife, scrape down the cobs and add the milky substance that oozes out to the corn kernels.
2. Heat a 3- to 4-quart heavy bottom pot over low heat and add the diced bacon. Once it has rendered a few tablespoons of fat, increase the heat to medium and cook until the bacon is crisp and golden brown. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat, leaving the bacon in the pot.
3. Add the butter, onion, bell pepper, thyme, cumin, and turmeric and sauté, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 8 minutes, until the onion and pepper are tender but not browned.
4. Add the corn kernels, potatoes, and stock, turn up the heat, cover, and boil vigorously for about 10 minutes. Some of the potatoes will have broken up, but most should retain their shape. Use the back of your spoon to smash a bit of the corn and potatoes against the side of the pot. Reduce the heat to medium and season the chowder with salt and pepper.
5. Stir the cornstarch mixture and slowly pour it into the pot, stirring constantly. As soon as the chowder has come back to a boil and thickened slightly, remove from the heat and stir in the cream. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. If you are not serving the chowder within the hour, let it cool a bit, then refrigerate; cover the chowder after it has completely chilled. Otherwise, let it sit at room temperature for up to an hour, allowing the flavors to meld.
6. When ready to serve, reheat the chowder over low heat; don't let it boil. Ladle into cups or bowls and sprinkle with the chopped chives.
Makes 7 cups. Serves 6 as a first course
Corn Chowder with Tomato and Basil
Peel 1/2 pound ripe red tomatoes: Score an X in the bottom of each tomato. Drop into a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds, until the skins loosen. Cool the tomatoes in ice water, drain, and pull off the skin. Quarter the tomatoes, cut out the juicy centers, and reserve for another use. Cut the tomato flesh into 1/2-inch dice; you should have about 3/4 cup. Add the tomatoes to the chowder right after you add the cornstarch (Step 5). When you remove the chowder from the heat, stir in 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil along with the cream.
Southwestern-Style Corn Chowder
Increase the cumin to 1 teaspoon. Right before you add the cornstarch (Step 5), add 1 small poblano chile, roasted, peeled, seeds removed, and cut into small to medium dice. After you add the cream, stir in 2 or more tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro.
Corn Chowder with Sweet Potatoes
To make this delectable sweet chowder, substitute 1 pound sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice, for the white potatoes. Sweet potatoes cook a little faster than all-purpose potatoes, so reduce the cooking time to about 8 minutes, then proceed with the recipe as instructed.
Source of recipe: Jasper White 50 Chowders