All week I have heard people lamenting the end of summer. Where did it go? How could it pass so quickly? Admittedly, I have been known to be in that camp as well, but this year, I decided summer isn’t over until it is over, and as long as my favorite harvest treats are still available, the season lives on. A recent stop at my local farm stand revealed the continued presence of sweet corn and new potatoes, two of my favorites. They served as my inspiration for today’s creation knowing one must act quickly before the opportunity passes.
The chance to marry these two led to my thinking chowder. It may seem odd to think soup when the outside temps hover in the mid 80’s, but I find something particularly satisfying about the process of developing complex flavors using humble ingredients. Simple adaptations can accommodate weather—a hot soup can be turned into cold and visa versa. Let’s take a minute to discuss the characteristics of a chowder. Simply defined, it is thick, chunky soup made with a base of broth, milk or cream, often thickened with a roux and frequently containing potatoes, onions and flavored with bacon or salt pork. The original chowders were hearty fisherman’s stews, made with the catch of the day. The word chowder is derived from chaudiere, the French name of the cauldron traditionally used to make this type of soup.
Like all soups and stews, it is all about layering and building the flavor profiles with complimentary ingredients, each playing its part in supporting the stars. As they swim in harmony within the broth, they release their essence resulting in a complete seasonal composition. Each component executes its role in contributing to a delicately balanced dish.
Here is how it went down.
Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis Makes 6 servings
6 slices of Applewood smoked bacon, chopped (I prefer Neuskes)
½ c spicy sausage, (Andouille or Italian work well), optional
4T unsalted butter, divided
1 small onion, cut into a small dice
½ c celery, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely diced, optional
1 dried chipotle pepper, optional
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ t turmeric
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3 c chicken stock, divided
4 c fresh sweet corn kernels, stripped from 4 ears, reserve the cobs
1 lb. unpeeled red potatoes, cubed (1/2-inch)
1 bundle of fresh thyme, tied with kitchen twine
2 bay leaves
½ t Worcestershire sauce
2 c whole milk or milk and part cream
Fresh dill, chopped, for garnish
- Cook bacon and sausage in a large pot until crisp and cooked through. Remove from pot with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Set aside.
- Melt 2T of the butter in the drippings and add the onion, celery, jalapeno and dried chipotle. Cook until vegetables are soft. Add the garlic and turmeric and cook for another minute or until garlic softens. Season with salt and pepper.
- Raise the heat to medium high and deglaze pan with ½ c of the stock. Add the reserved cobs, remaining stock, potatoes, thyme bundle, bay leaves, Worcestershire and additional salt and pepper, if needed. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook on low for 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender, uncover.
- Add the milk or milk cream mixture, simmer for about 5 minutes, being careful not to boil. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, make a “slurry” by adding enough broth to the 2T flour and whisking to make a smooth paste. Set aside. Remove and discard the cobs, thyme bundle, dried chipotle and bay leaves. Add the “slurry” and remaining 2T of butter to the soup and stir until butter is melted.
- Add the reserved corn kernels and simmer 3-4 minutes.
- Stir in the bacon and sausage and adjust seasoning if needed just before serving.
- Garnish with chopped dill.
Some recipes call for blanching or grilling the corn beforehand but I wanted to preserve the crunch and crispness of the kernels, so I chose to use it raw and add it close to the end. Good call, I might add. Using the stripped cobs gave the broth an extra boost of “corniness” while the bacon played a key role, adding a smoky, saltiness that really enhanced the flavor. I just happened to have some left over Italian sausage so I threw that in as well giving the soup additional spice and texture. The deep golden color came from the turmeric, an idea I found in a recipe by Ina Garten. Thanks, Ina. Richness from the milk/cream and butter made the end result so luscious with a subtle heat from the addition of the jalapeno and dried chipotle. Topping it off with fresh dill was the crowning glory, making the chowder stand up and say, “look at me.” It brought both a seasonal brightness as well as eye appeal.
Before parting today, I want to express my gratitude to all who labor to make our lives better. We must continue to support them by doing our part to make sure they are paid a fair wage and work in safe environments. Included are the farmers and workers that make it possible for us to shop and eat the seasons. September is Eat Local Month so I urge you to join the growing community of people who know good food matters. Just like the ingredients in the chowder, we all have a unique contribution to make so the world is a better place for all. This holiday weekend is the perfect time to relax, reflect and spread the love, one dish at a time. Happy Labor Day to all. I send my love and gratitude. Jeanne