The evenings are starting to roll in earlier with a distinct chill in tow. I am equal parts depressed and elated by this shift. I am, of course, sad summer is drawing to a close. But I’m also excited to wear sweaters I forgot I owned and tuck into bowl after bowl of soup. I don’t, however, want to rush summer out the door. As a Canadian, I know what waits for me come December and it’s depressing as hell. But with this Street Corn Chowder, I can have the best of both worlds.
When I was growing up corn chowder was a perennial favorite. My father, a born and raised bluenoser, paradoxically dislikes a fair amount of seafood. So whenever my grandmother made fish chowder, she would make corn chowder for him. The two soups had essentially the same base, just a different cast of characters. And although I always opted for the fish chowder, I can’t help but feel nostalgic when I see corn chowder.
Now, I do have a pet peeve when it comes to corn chowder – I hate when they are overly sweet. I get that sweetness is a selling feature of in-season corn but I don’t think it should be allowed to run wild in a chowder. You have to cut it with something. So in the case of this Street Corn Chowder, I cut that corny sweetness with both sour cream and a hefty dose of lime juice. But before I get too into the weeds with the chowder, let’s discuss what makes it Street Corn Chowder and what the heck street corn is.
I’m sure the magic that is street corn is approaching common knowledge at this point. But just in case you haven’t encountered it before, let’s break it down. Street corn or elotes is a Mexican street food…but I suppose that is obvious. Elotes are grilled ears of corn slathered in a mayo/crema concoction and seasoned with chili powder, crumbled cojita cheese, and lime zest. There are, of course, variations but this is the most common. The classic, if you will.
So how do you turn it into soup? Well, this Street Corn Chowder starts off like any other – cutting the kernels from the cobs. Once the cobs are naked, they become the best stock ingredient a chowder chef could ask for. Now, three cobs does not a stock make, so it gets a little help from shallots, garlic, and vermouth for good measure.
Once the stock is done and strained, it’s time to start building your chowder. Now, the corn chowders of my youth were fairly thin. Not, of course, in terms of flavor but in terms of body. Because this Street Corn Chowder must accommodate toppings, it has be thicker than the soups of my youth. So to give the soup body, I start things off with a roux. A simple mixture of flour and butter. To that I add all the seasonings. I went with chili powder because it graces elotes. And to deepen the flavor I also added ground cumin, oregano, and a dash of cayenne for a little extra heat.
Now, here’s where the acidity comes in. This chowder has sour cream and as with all sauces and soups that are warm, you have to be careful when adding dairy products. You don’t want to shock them or they will curdle. You can temper the sour cream by whisking a little of the soup into the sour cream before adding it to the pot or you can throw caution to the wind and add it in one go.
Regardless of which route you choose, make sure the soup is off of the heat, and don’t bring the soup back to a boil after the dairy has been added. If you do curdle the sour cream, don’t panic, your soup is still perfectly edible and likely delicious. The texture will be less than desirable but nothing major. Trust me, I’ve curdled many a soup. Now, if you curdle your soup to the point that it resembles scrambled eggs, I wouldn’t advise suffering through it. Life is too short to eat bad soup.
Now, the chowder is complete and the only thing left to do is a little zhuzh. I topped my chowder with additional grilled corn, jalapeño rings, shallots pickled in lime juice, and a crumble of feta cheese. The feta is a stand-in for cojita, which is far from plentiful in my neighborhood but if you can get your hands on some by all means use that. And really, you can add anything you like to the surface of your chowder. For instance, I don’t think a crumbling of tortilla chips would be out of place here.
So that’s everything you need to know about this Street Corn Chowder. It’s a simple and tasty way to embrace the coziness of the approaching fall while giving summer the send-off it deserves.
Street Corn Chowder with Pickled Shallots
- Large dutch oven
- 4 shallots divided
- 4 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 2 limes divided
- 5 ears corn divided
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ¼ cup dry vermouth
- 8 cups water
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- 1½ cups sour cream
- ½ cup feta crumbled
- 2 jalapeños sliced
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves
- Halve and slice 3 of the shallots and set them aside. Cut the kernels off of 3 ears of corn and set both the cobs and kernels aside. Thinly slice the shallot and place it in a small bowl. Juice 1 lime and pour it over the shallots. Cover and let pickle on the counter for a minimum of 2 hours.
- Pour the olive oil into a large Dutch oven and place over medium heat. Add the shallots and a sprinkle of salt. Reduce the heat and sweat the shallots until just translucent. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. About 30 minutes more.
- Deglaze the pot with the dry vermouth and stir in the water. Add the corn cobs and the salt. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Add the bay leaves and cover and simmer for 2 hours.
- Pour the stock through a fine-mesh strainer into a large container with a spout. Set aside. In a small bowl whisk to combine the chili powder, ground cumin, ground coriander, cayenne pepper, and dried oregano.
- Return the Dutch oven to the heat and add the butter. When the butter melts, whisk in the flour to form a roux. Add the spice mix and sauté until fragrant. Slowly whisk in the stock and stir in the corn you removed from the cobs you used to make the stock. Bring the soup to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes.
- While the soup is simmering, coat the remaining 2 ears of corn with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Heat a grill or a cast iron griddle over high heat until smoking. Add the corn and char on all sides. Transfer to a plate and set aside to cool slightly.
- Take the soup off of the heat and whisk in the sour cream. Juice the remaining lime and add it to the soup. Don’t bring the soup back up to a boil at any time after adding the sour cream. **
- At this point, the grilled corn should be cool enough to handle. Cut the corn from the cob and sprinkle it over the soup. Finish the bowls off with crumbled feta, jalapeño slices, pickled shallots, and fresh cilantro.