We are in the height of sweet corn season and I awoke with the thought of corn chowder. There is something about layering flavors that result in a complex yet simple dish that really turns me on. I admit soups and stews are more of a Winter activity but when corn harvest is upon us, we must make the most of it. In addition to the robust green stalks that grace the markets, plump onions, spicy jalapeno peppers, glorious sun gold tomatoes and an abundance of fresh herbs have made their appearance in my garden.
What’s a girl to do? I began scouring my vast collection of cookbooks for ideas and came up with the thought of combining all of the above with seafood to make a hearty one pot meal. Wanting to compose a dish that screams Summer and leaning on my love affair with anything New Orleans, I developed a recipe for Corn Chowder w/ Crawfish. I buy crawfish (also affectionately known as mudbugs) at my local seafood center. It comes frozen in 1# packages of tail meat already cleaned. It is sweet and meaty and can be used in a variety of preparations. If you cannot get this where you live, I think crab or shrimp would be a fine substitute. Don’t eat seafood? Leave it out, use vegetable broth and make this dish vegetarian. Equally appealing to the taste-buds.
Here’s the scoop.
CORN AND CRAWFISH CHOWDER Serves 6-8
Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis
3T unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, minced fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
5 ears sweet corn, kernels cut from cobs or equivalent of frozen corn
1 quart shrimp stock or fish stock (clam broth or vegetable stock would also do)
*You can make shrimp stock by saving shrimp shells when you clean raw shrimp (I keep a bag in my freezer) and cooking them in water, adding some aromatics (onion, garlic, herbs) if desired, but not necessary, for about 30 minutes. Strain and you got it! Here you are making your own shrimp stock. Hooray, smarty pants.
½ c white wine
1 bundle of fresh herbs (several thyme sprigs, one or two tarragon sprigs and a few flat leaf parsley stems), tied together with kitchen twine
2c Sun gold (or other sweet variety) tomatoes, halved and seeded and pureed
1 lb. cooked crawfish tails, drained with liquid reserved (you could substitute crab or raw shrimp if you cannot get crawfish)
¼- ½ c cream
Cayenne pepper to taste
Juice of one lime
Pinch of sugar if corn is not sweet, optional (I did not do this but if using frozen corn, it might need it)
Freshly ground black pepper
- In a large soup pot, melt the butter and sauté onions and jalapenos until soft.
- Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two being careful not to burn. Add the corn kernels and cook for about ten minutes.
- Meanwhile heat the shrimp stock with the herb bundle and the white wine. Allow to simmer until you are ready for it.
- Add the tomatoes to the vegetables and cook for a few minutes.
- Add the stock and herb bundle and simmer for ½ hour, adding any liquid that drained from the crawfish tails.
- Puree mixture in a food processor or using a hand blender.** If you desire a thin broth, push through a medium mesh strainer. Otherwise keep as is and return to the pot. Add the crawfish and cream and allow to heat through.
- Add a pinch of cayenne and the lime juice, sugar, if using, and salt and pepper as needed.
- Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Serve hot, garnished with scallion greens or chives
**Note: I prefer to use a hand blender and just mildly puree leaving it chunkier.
I like the idea of texture so I simply smoothed it out a bit with the immersion blender allowing it to remain a little chunky. If you prefer a silkier finish then puree it completely and push it through a medium mesh sieve.
In the end you will produce a luscious, bright summer meal with a bit of zip resulting from the jalapeno and cayenne (something you can control by adjusting the amounts). The crunch of the corn, sweetness of the crawfish and tang of the lime bring it to life while a bit of cream adds elegance to the humble ingredients.
Michael Pollan, the author of Omnivores Dilemma, has a new book, Cooked, which mysteriously arrived in my mailbox the other day with no explanatory accompaniment. Of course I had to read it! In it he says, “the single most important thing we could do as a family to improve our health and general well-being is cook.” I couldn’t agree more but would add using fresh seasonal and local products, preferably organically grown.
Cook something wonderful today. Transform the humble stock of corn, garden tomato, lowly “mudbug” or whatever is available to you into something fit for a queen. Remember, spread the love, one dish at a time. A generous amount of love is always the secret ingredient to a great recipe. Until next time.