Sunday, December 7, 2014

Thanksgiving Soup Bar: Potato and Corn Chowder

There are many philosophies regarding corn chowder. The same applies to potato chowders without corn. Many recipes include bacon, using that as the source of the fat. Others include red peppers, for color and flavor. I'm a purist, though. While a sprinkle of crispy bacon on a chowder is wonderful, I don't want that smoke throughout the soup. The same with peppers -- great as a garnish on occasion, not something I want dominating this soup.

Still, the different schools of thought show what a great base a dish like this is. If you want to punch it up with other flavors, it can take it. Bacon or peppers, sure, but also a little crushed garlic or curry powder. If you want to make it more substantial by adding some leftover diced chicken or ham, it's cool. In the spring, change it up with leeks instead of onion. If you like a thicker base, increase the amount of flour. You can use whole milk or cream instead of half-and-half. Etc.

Another point about this chowder is that while it was featured in the Thanksgiving Soup Bar, it's something I've been making for years. This is the first time I've written down the recipe, though, because I've always made it by feel, and based on what I had on hand. I don't worry too much about measurements, I just shoot for general proportions. It's all good.

One final note: I typically use low-sodium broth when cooking, but both potatoes and corn love salt. Be sure to taste when the chowder is finished, and if it seems a little bland, don't hesitate to add more salt.

Potato and Corn Chowder

2 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
2 Tbsp flour
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock, warmed
2 medium red potatoes, in small (1/4") dice (about 1 cup)
1 12-oz pkg frozen corn kernels, thawed (or 2 to 2-1/2 cups fresh)
1/2 cup half-and-half
Dash nutmeg
Ground white or black pepper to taste

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and celery and saute, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and translucent (do not allow to brown). Add flour and continue to cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute.

Add the warm stock, a few tablespoons at a time, stirring constantly to incorporate into the onion mixture without lumping. After about a cup of stock has been added, continue to add in a slow stream while stirring. Add the potatoes. Continue to cook until the mixture comes to a boil, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are just tender, about 15 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, combine 1 cup of corn with the half-and-half in a blender and blend to a rough puree. (Alternately, you can use a hand blender in a 2-cup measuring cup.) When the potatoes are done, stir the corn mixture into the saucepan, then add the remaining corn, nutmeg, and pepper. Cook until the mixture and the corn is heated through. Taste and adjust salt and other seasonings.

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