Sunday, October 18, 2009

As Corny as NH in October

It's mid October. The temperature is 20 degrees below normal. A nor'easter is heading up the coast. But there's still fresh sweet corn at the Seacoast Growers Market in Portsmouth and that makes me very happy.

For the few first weeks of the season, I can't get enough of corn on the cob. But then, I start to hunger for other ways to enjoy it. If there ever was a day that cried out for corn chowder, this is it, so Robin, Dave, and I picked up half a dozen ears from Heron Pond Farm's stand.

Normally, I'd start my chowder by frying up some local bacon, but we have ham left over from last week's ham and string beans, so I decide to use that. I like to make a "corn stock", by simmering the cobs in milk seasoned with onion, bay leaf, thyme, and sage. I decide to add the ham to the steeping milk mixture to warm it up and to add some smoky flavor to the stock. I take care, though, not to let the milk come to a boil.
As for a recipe, I quickly scan a few cook books with an eye toward creating the ultimate chowder experience. I discover an interesting technique in The Greens Cook Book by Deborah Madison; she thickens her chowder by pureeing half of the corn kernels in a blender before adding them to the soup. I like that idea, though I decide to first saute the corn with onions and some minced chili pepper before pureeing.

Once the milk has warmed up sufficiently and developed a nice smoky taste, I remove the corn cobs, add the uncooked corn kernels and the corn puree, simmering gently, until the corn is cooked and the soup is hot. We sit down to eat, oblivious to the cold outside and grateful to be enjoying the taste of fresh corn in October.

Corny Chowder with Ham

6 ears of corn
1 quart whole milk
1 large onion, diced
1 bay leaf
1 sage leaf
1 sprig thyme
2 cups cubed cooked ham
1 T butter
2 small hot Hungarian wax peppers, minced (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Slice the corn from the cob and set kernels aside in a bowl. Press knife to the cob to extract some of the milky liquid and add to bowl.

2. Cut cobs in half and put in a large sauce pan. Add the milk, half the chopped onion, bay, sage, and thyme to a large sauce pan and gently heat to a bare simmer, stirring frequently to keep stock from sitcking to pan. Do not let stock come to a boil.

3. While stock is heating, add butter, remaining half of the chopped onion, half the corn kernels and the minced chili to a saute pan and saute until fragrant and heated through. Add ham and remaining corn kernels to the stock, continuing to stir frequently.

4. Puree the sauted corn mixure in a blender for at least 2 minutes. If it is too thick, you can add a little water and puree some more.

5. Remove corn cobs and bay leaf from corn stock. Then add the corn puree to the stock. Put cobs in a bowl to capture any corn stock, then add to sauce pan.

6. Cook soup over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Check for salt (if the ham is salty enough, you may not need any.) Add some freshly ground pepper to taste.

Serves 4

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