August’s Only Acceptable Soup
August 4, 2008
It’s not unusual to arrive at my parents’ house in Minnesota for a visit and find the kitchen a buzzing hub of activity and people. In fact, the first time Kevin came to Minnesota with me, the first time he’d ever met my family, mere weeks after we’d started dating, we walked in the front door only to find a party in full swing. Apparently, my parents’ friends had wanted to meet my new boyfriend. This situation can be a little overwhelming (just ask Kevin), but it works out pretty well if, during your travels, you’ve worked up an appetite. There is always something delicious to eat.
Last Thursday, when Kevin and I got to Minnesota, we weren’t there five minutes before my mom was rummaging through the refrigerator and ladling something into a bowl. She’d made corn chowder the night before and wanted us to have a taste. I dutifully took the spoonful she passed to me, still gathering my bearings after a long trip in the car. But with one bite, I knew I was home and that I was in for a delicious weekend. And that I would have to make the soup as soon as we got back to Chicago.
Now, I’m aware that soup—a chowder, no less—might seem like an odd choice for August. But, since I am not a fan of cold soups (not for lack of trying; I’ve hopefully made one batch of gazpacho after another, only to be disappointed time and time again), the only exception I make to summer’s moratorium on soups is for a broth studded with sweet corn. To me, it is August’s only acceptable soup.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
There are a couple other reasons why this bubbling, steaming pot of soup is not as insane as it might seem. First, unlike your typical chowder, it is light and silky, rather than leaden and creamy. Cubed yukon gold potatoes and half-moons of celery bob in the broth, which is flavored deeply with smoke and sweetness. But the star, as it should be, is the corn, freshly-shaved off the cob, each kernel bursting with sunny flavor.
Also, in Minnesota, where humidity is a once-an-August phenomenon and cozy sweaters are a nighttime staple, a slurp of soup can be very welcome once the sun dips below the horizon on an August evening. And, even though the thermometer registered 91 degrees when we pulled into our garage here in Chicago last night, I knew we’d be having the soup for dinner. We’d been gone four days, seen two generations of family and covered a good portion of the state, but it wasn’t enough. I was homesick for the first time in a long time and what’s more comforting than a steaming mug of chowder? Even in August.
My Mother’s Corn Chowder
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
4 ounces of bacon
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
5 celery ribs, diced
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chili powder
1/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt (or more to taste)
1/4 teaspoon fresh-cracked black pepper
4 medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes, cubed
4 tablespoons flour
4 cups chicken stock (low-sodium or homemade)
2 cups water
4 ears of corn, kernels shaved from the cob and one shaved cob reserved
Greek yogurt, for garnish
snipped chives, for garnish
Fry the bacon in the bottom of a large soup pot, until the bacon is crisp. Remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Drain the bacon drippings from the pot, but do not wipe out the pot. Return the pot to the stove, turn the heat up to medium high and heat the olive oil in the pot. Add the onion, celery and herbs (through the black pepper). Stir to coat the vegetables with the oil and herbs and cook until the onions have become translucent and soft (several minutes). Add the potatoes and cook for five minutes, until the potatoes have begun to soften. Turn the heat down to low and sprinkle the flour over the vegetables. Stir and cook for several minutes.
Add the chicken stock and water. Crumble the bacon and add all but 1 tablespoon to the soup. Next, stir in the corn kernels. Finally, add the reserved, shaved cob of corn to the soup (which will help flavor and thicken the broth). Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat and cook, covered, for 30 minutes.
Before serving, remove the shaved corn cob and taste the soup for seasoning. Add more salt if necessary. Serve the soup with a dollop of Greek yogurt, snipped chives and the reserved crumbled bacon.