When finally the corn is ready in the garden or the best sweet corn appears in the produce market, we greedily cook more ears than we could eat. Don’t toss the extra ears in the compost — make corn chowder. Drop the leftover corn in a plastic bag and refrigerate it until you can find an hour to cook up some delicious chowder. Corn chowder base freezes very well and will be a huge treat when you heat some up this winter. Waste not, want not.
I took my recipe ideas from chefs and corn lovers Michael Chiarello and Jacques Pepin, then added in my love of bacon. If you avoid bacon or want a vegetarian version, by all means sauté the vegetables in good olive oil. I wait to add potato until I heat the soup for serving, because potatoes get soggy when frozen.
Of course, homemade, strong chicken stock is always best, but I use the Better Than Bouillon paste. On a recent episode of America’s Test Kitchen, they did a blind taste testing of chicken stock. The brand I had in my cupboard at the time was pronounced “road-kill raccoon” and the Better Than Bouillon chicken was given second place, but it was pointed out that it also lasts in the refrigerator for at least two years and so was the best buy.
Multiply or divide my recipe according to the amount of corn you have. A medium-sized ear yields about a cup of kernels. The amounts below will yield about 3 quarts of base and up to 6 quarts of finished chowder.
• 4 thick slices bacon
• 1 large onion, diced
• 1 cup diced celery
• 12 cups cut sweet corn kernels
• 4 cups corn stock
• 1 tbsp chicken Better Than Bouillon paste
• sea salt and pepper to taste
• Equal part milk, preferably whole milk
• Optional: diced cooked potato
• Additional sea salt and pepper to taste
• Garnish: parsley, sliced green part of scallion
1. The corn should be cooked for at least a couple minutes, but it’s fine if it is completely cooked, leftover. Use a shallow bowl or a small tray to contain the kernels as you cut. Hold the ears upright and slice down the cob, cutting away the kernels and then scraping down to get all the scraps. Don’t toss the cobs!
2. Make corn stock. Put the cobs in a pot with water to barely cover, bring to a simmer and simmer for about a half hour, letting the water reduce to 4 cups at the end. Now you can toss the cobs into the compost. *See note below.
4. While the corn stock is simmering, sauté the bacon very slowly to render as much fat as possible. Dice the onion and celery. When the bacon is rendered, set it aside and add the onion and celery to the bacon fat in the pan. Sauté over medium heat a few minutes, scraping the fond from the bottom of the pan, which will dissolve in the moisture. Now add the corn kernels, stir in and continue to sauté another couple minutes.
4. Stir in the Better Than Bouillon chicken base, then add the corn stock. Simmer for a few minutes until the corn stock is reduced by half and the veggies are tender. Add sea salt and pepper to taste. Cool the mixture, and then crumble the bacon and add it in.
5. Freeze your chowder base in appropriate portion sizes in either freezer zipper bags or plastic containers. Two cups of base will make 1 quart of finished chowder.
6. When ready to serve, defrost the chowder base and add as much milk as you have base. Heat until piping hot, but don’t boil. Taste and correct seasoning of sea salt and pepper to your taste. Ladle into bowls and garnish as you wish.
* Note: Don’t take this as Veterinary advice — ask your veterinarian if you’re not sure. I have given fresh corn cobs to horses, a very grateful milk cow and even let a large dog gnaw on one. Not too many, of course.
Wendy Akin is happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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