12 August 2008

Corn (Corn Chowder)

Considering that we’ve been eating corn in North America since before recorded history, I’m surprised we don’t have a more robust and rooted culinary tradition of corn. Today, most Americans eat corn on the cob in August, and lots of people eat corn bread throughout the year. A few regions specialize in corn puddings, and roasted ears of corn are a favorite at county fairs around the country. But, considering the ubiquitous role of corn in American agriculture, why aren’t there dozens of corn dishes that every kid in America grows up eating and making? Why, after all these generations, don’t we have a glut of regional recipes that celebrate the season of corn?
I know I can search the internet for corn recipes and find hundreds, but I’m not talking about recipes; I’m thinking about a culinary understanding of the most widely grown plant in this country. Corn is everywhere and we still approach it like a novelty each year. Perhaps we can’t improve upon boiled corn with butter and salt, but even if that represents the pinnacle of culinary and cultural creativity in the kitchen, I think we should have a few more ideas cooked up by now.
I begin my corn season with corn chowder. If you haven’t made corn chowder with fresh sweet corn, give it a try.


6 ears fresh sweet corn
4-8 tbsp butter
1/2 lb salt pork
2-3 potatoes
1 big onion
a few cloves garlic
1 cup stock or water
1 tomato, seeded
3-4 tbsp tarragon
2 - 3 cups (or so) milk/half & half

I start with a few tablespoons of butter in a nice big saucier. I cut up about a half pound of salt pork into tiny pieces, about ¼” squares and add to it a big onion, also diced finely. A few cloves of garlic? Sure. Add a few more tablespoons of butter about now. Cook until salt pork is browned and onions are soft.

Potatoes are a great addition, and you can add them raw or parboil them first. Use a couple, peel them, and cut them into small pieces. If you add them raw, cook them until they’re almost done before you add the corn. A little liquid is good now. If I have any stock in the icebox I use it, adding a cup or so and letting it cook down a bit. If I don’t have any stock handy, water works well, too.
If you want a little color, a seeded tomato, cut into pieces, works well. So does a diced carrot or a few stems of swiss chard, added like diced celery.
After shucking a half dozen or so ears of corn, I remove the kernels by holding the cob in one hand and using a sharp knife to cut the kernels from the cob into a big colander in the sink. It’s wide and deep enough to catch the stray, flying kernels. Add the kernels to the golden onions and fragrant salt pork. I love tarragon with corn chowder, so I add it now, and a little sweet paprika, too.
Once the corn is cooked, in just a few minutes, I add a combination of milk and half & half, stirring and keeping the heat low so it doesn’t boil. A few cups total will suffice. I like my a bit thin, so I probably add more milk than half & half. Keep it from boiling, and when everything is all mixed together and the liquid is white with swirls of yellowy butter, it’s ready to eat.
Here’s a perfect time to drink a California chardonnay. Chardonnay that’s been oaked and grown in the warm California sun isn’t my daily libation, but with corn chowder it’s a great match.
What other corn dishes belong on every table in August?


  1. Oh yum,

    I am going to try this when we move into our next cabin at here at Hume Lake. Then I can finally get all my kitchen stuff out. I miss our family meals together with your family. And that bottle of wine sounds wonderful... since we can't have it, anymore, enjoy for us. But if by chance you need to come out to California for a new bottle or two, stop by our neck of the woods.

    Until we break bread again, may God richly bless you and yours. Cheers! Michelle West

  2. With corn season in full swing, we're making this as fast as we buy more salt pork!

  3. your favorite sister!September 17, 2008 at 8:48 PM

    soooo - my batch was ok - it lacked a little depth but the cream i had was old so i had to toss it - i will definately look for the salt pork - probably adds more depth, but the corn was fresh and tasty! will try one more time and freeze and whip out during the cold of january! so, one of mom's tips was to add one can of cream of corn (which is gross) but it thickens it up a bit....

  4. Dear sister, You can't add a can of cream of corn soup to a batch of corn chowder! That's one reason to use stock in it; when I do, I keep boiling it down until it's nearly all evaporated, concentrating the flavors and adding a lot of depth to the chowder. I also use a lot of corn and add the cream and milk in a ratio that addresses the final consistency rather than the fat/calorie count.
    Thanks for reading and commenting!