A Little Spice Is Nice

About a year ago I wrote a blog about a Creamy Corn Chowder recipe that was to die for! BUT, it took most of an afternoon to make. So with expediency in mind, here’s one—Spicy Corn Chowder—that’s just about as tasty, yet takes a fraction of the time from start to finish. Thanks to David Bonom of Fine Cooking for the instructions.

Bacon makes this creamy dish—with just the right amount of heat from a bit of chipotle chili powder—the ultimate early autumn comfort food. Don’t substitute frozen corn here; the flavor of this quick chowder depends on freshly cut kernels. Yes, fresh-picked corn is near it’s end here in the northeast, so take advantage of the last crop of the season.

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Sweet corn is one of summer’s simplest, purest pleasures. A fresh-picked ear, grilled to caramelized perfection and lightly buttered, offers incredible, complex sweetness, an intoxicating texture and plenty of nutrition benefits to boot.

But many people have convinced themselves that sweet corn is bad (oh those dreaded carbs). That’s a shame. It’s easy to take a few real nuggets of fact and use them to come to a distorted conclusion about this super-delicious summer veggie. An ear of corn has about the same number of calories as an apple and less than one-fourth the sugar.

Some reviewers added a jalapeño pepper, paprika, cayenne, and chili powders instead of the chipotle powder, which would certainly give a zing, but I think the chipotle chile powder really makes this soup stand apart from others, without making it too spicy. If you prefer a milder kick, use a 1/4 teaspoon of the spice instead of a 1/2 teaspoon.

Although corn lovers often profess to have favorite varieties, variety is far less important than freshness—any corn can be ruined if it’s old. Nor is color a key to quality. Yellow, white, bi-color, it doesn’t really matter. Avoid corn with dry, pale husks and silks that are desiccated where they enter the cob. If pricked, kernels should squirt whitish juice. As for choosing the best-tasting corn, don’t buy a cob that’s more than 24 hours out of the field, that’s why it’s best to purchase at a farm stand. But hurry, the season is nearly done!

 

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb. thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon (6 slices), cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 celery ribs, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme
  • 5 cups fresh corn kernels (from 10 medium cobs)
  • 1/2 tsp. pure chipotle chile powder
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 2 cups lower-salt chicken broth
  • 1 large russet potato, peeled and coarsely grated
  • Kosher salt
  • Grated Monterey Jack, for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. Cut the kernels off the corn cobbs with a large, sharp knife on a rimmed baking sheet to prevent the kernels from scattering around your kitchen.
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  2. Cook the bacon in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot over medium-high heat until browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate. Pour off and discard all but 2 Tbs. of the bacon fat.
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  3. Return the Dutch oven to medium-high heat and add the onion, half of the scallions, the celery, bell pepper, and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
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  4. Add the corn and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the chipotle powder and cook for 30 seconds.
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  5. Add the half-and-half and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add the grated potato, lower the heat to medium, and cook, covered, until the potato is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
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  6. Season to taste with salt and transfer to 4 large soup bowls. Garnish with the reserved bacon and scallions, and the cheese, if using, and serve.

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