Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Corn Chowder for Homemade Soup Skeptics

Soup is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. It's warm, substantial but not too filling, and usually pairs wonderfully with rustic-style bread or classic Saltines. During my four year stint as a vegetarian, memories of chicken noodle soup and beef stew were mouthwatering enough to hasten my transition back to meat-eating (not to say that there aren't many delicious vegetarian soups, stews, and chowders as well, but the presence of some chicken or beef stock hold an irresistible sway over me).

Despite my great enjoyment of soup, I had never tried to make it from scratch until this year. I saw nothing wrong with my canned soup and was a little bit afraid that whatever soup I attempted to make would take a lot of time and end up being bland. In other words, my bias towards canned soup was motivated by laziness and a fear of watery broth. I finally decided to attempt a soup recipe while maintaining multiple self-assurances that, if it didn't turn out well, I could go back to my canned soups forever. Corn chowder seemed like a relatively simple and well-liked option to try. So, armed with a cookbook, a soup pot, and a hand-held vegetable chopper (notice the recurring theme of reluctance towards physical labor?), I set out to make my first soup.

The results far exceeded any of my expectations. Granted, they were low to begin with, but making and eating homemade soup was a revelation. The process was far easier and far less time consuming than I had imagined. Even for a relatively inexperienced cook, the corn chowder recipe is pretty hard to mess up. The difference in taste between the corn chowder made with fresh ingredients and the canned soups was astounding. The ingredients seem to resonate more distinctly and the chowder was less salty than canned soup in a way that was refreshing rather than bland. This is the (slightly adapted) recipe from Molly Katzen's "Get Cooking" that changed my mind about homemade soup:


2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 medium red onion, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
1.5 teaspoons salt
4 cups chicken stock
5 medium-small waxy red potatoes cut into 3/4" dice, preferably with skins on
1 pound (about 3 cups) corn kernels
1/2 heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Chives for garnish


1. In the soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, celery, and salt. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the onion and celery are softening.

2. Add the chicken stock and the diced potatoes. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to the lowest setting. Partially cover and simmer for about 15-20 minutes (or until the potatoes are completely soft).

3. Add the corn and simmer for another 5 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream and heat for about 1 more minute. Season with pepper, garnish with chives, and serve in a sourdough bread bowl if you are feeling extra fancy!

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