Recipes | Soups

Fresh Corn Chowder for the Summer

I feel bad for my recipe binder: it’s becoming the Winnie the Pooh of my bookshelf.

A few months ago, I relegated it to an inside cabinet in my dining room—for aesthetic reasons, I told myself. The plastic orange binder looked chintzy and out of place compared to the rest of the book spines stacked, piled, and styled on the shelves.

But the tough reality is that I’m outgrowing it.

As a culinary autodidact, I learned to cook by following recipes to the letter. And though I used cookbooks sporadically, my collection was much smaller in the days where I moved dorms and apartments more often than a hermit crab outgrows its shell.

fresh corn chowder
Photo: Casey Barber

Ripped-out pages from magazines, handwritten notes and scribbles, printed pages from the early days of food writing on the internet; those scraps of paper were my syllabus as I moved through my cooking education.

These days, I’m more likely to cook on the fly, bookmarking a particular recipe for an ingredient I’d like to use or a technique I’d like to adapt rather than executing a recipe wholesale.

And though I measure and test to exact specifications when developing a recipe, the next time I return to that recipe, odds are high that the quantities become a loose guideline and reference for whatever I’ve got in the house.

No scallions? Eh, I’ll use a few chives and shallots. More mint? Always.

fresh corn chowder
Photo: Casey Barber

Which brings us to corn chowder.

Growing up, the soup was always a winter dish, indelibly tied to memories of slurping down large bowls in our tiny breakfast room against the backdrop of a snowy white backyard and cold black night sky. And the recipe used a bag of frozen corn.

A few weeks ago, as I shucked yet another ear of freshly grilled corn, I realized that family recipe wasn’t the way I cooked anymore.

Why was I not using fresh corn—sweet Jersey corn, no less, which is growing in abundance just outside my door—in its namesake chowder recipe?

fresh corn chowder
Photo: Casey Barber

Beyond the frozen corn, there was far too much paprika, an extra, unnecessary step with chicken broth and flour, and most notably, no garlic to go with that corn and potatoes.

(Tell me you’ve never just eaten a whole skillet’s worth of fresh roasted corn kernels with butter, minced garlic, and salt. Summer’s finest.)

Recipes change like tastes change. It’s the evolution of a confident cook to acknowledge this and adapt to suit your needs—nothing’s written in stone, and what fun is cooking if you can’t play with your food?

I’m not suggesting we toss all family recipes to the curb and start fresh, but bring in what we’ve learned from the recipes we’ve committed to memory over the years—taking the lessons we’ve internalized and putting them to good use at every meal.

fresh corn chowder
Photo: Casey Barber

Simmering corn cobs in milk adds time to the creation of the chowder, but it’s inactive time—you can make a cocktail or do a load of laundry while the cobs steep, or just do it the night before and reheat the milk when you’re ready to pull everything together.

The corn cob trick adds flavor to any stock you’re building, so act like the pros and keep a bag full of stripped but un-simmered cobs in your freezer, ready and waiting to bring summer life to winter soups and stews.

fresh corn chowder

Fresh Corn Chowder

Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Additional Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes

Fresh corn chowder made with just-off-the-cob kernels and a corn-infused broth turns a warming winter recipe into a fresh and creamy summer soup.

Ingredients

  • 3 ears corn, shucked
  • 1 quart (4 cups) whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 small sweet or yellow onion, minced
  • 1 large or 2 small celery stalks, diced
  • 1 small red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 large Russet potato (about 3/4 pound), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Instructions

    1. Slice the kernels off each ear of corn by placing the base of the ear against the bottom of a mixing bowl, then cutting down the sides of the ear with a paring knife so the kernels fall into the bowl.
    2. Reserve the kernels in the mixing bowl and place the cobs in a Dutch oven or other stockpot. (If they don't fit in one piece, snap them in half with your hands.)
    3. Pour the milk over the cobs and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
    4. Once the milk begins to bubble, cover the pot, take it off the heat, and allow the cobs to steep and infuse the milk for 1 hour.
    5. Compost the cobs and transfer the milk to a large (4-cup) measuring cup or mixing bowl.
    6. Wash the Dutch oven or stockpot to make sure no milk solids are left in the pan, then return to the stovetop.
    7. Melt the butter in the pot over medium heat, then stir in the onion, celery, pepper, and garlic.
    8. Add a pinch of kosher salt and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are soft and translucent.
    9. Stir in the paprika and cook for 30 seconds to release the flavors.
    10. Stir in the potato cubes, the reserved corn kernels, and another pinch of kosher salt.
    11. Pour 2 tablespoons of the reserved milk into a small bowl.
    12. Pour the rest of the milk back into the pot and bring to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender, about 5-8 minutes.
    13. While the soup cooks, whisk the cornstarch into the 2 tablespoons reserved milk.
    14. Add the dissolved cornstarch to the soup during the final minute of cooking and stir to thicken.
    15. Season with additional salt to taste.

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12 Comments

  1. I always wondered about that large amount of paprika but was too obedient to question it or leave it out. It does give it a nice orange glow …

    1. Isn’t it funny that we never bothered to think about how much paprika was going into the chowder? Don’t worry, it still gets a warm tint from the teaspoon’s worth. :)

  2. This looks delicious and I agree, I always have more fun cooking when I can change things up (I’m a chronic recipe tweaker). I have a new favorite way to use corncobs, too – sweet corncob jelly. :-)

    1. Tracy, I have six cobs in the freezer right now just waiting to become corncob jelly. I’m so excited to try it!

  3. I really love this post, Casey. It’s almost more about your evolution as a foodie and cook than it is the corn chowder, but the chowder provides the perfect analogy. I feel the same way about my grandmother’s potato soup. I make it every winter, but I adore it. So I ask myself WHY I wait until we have snow on the ground. It’s perfect for fall too. And I have messed with it endlessly, but never posted a new version. Thanks for the inspiration, friend.

  4. Sounds good but when do you add in the fresh corn you cut off the cobs? It is not in the instructions when to add it.

    1. DERP! Yeah, that would help, wouldn’t it? I’ve fixed the recipe – add the corn with the potatoes. :)

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