The humble ear of corn is our most plentiful and versatile vegetable. It saved the lives of the American colonists and is in just about everything you eat (whether you know it or not). Someday soon, corn may actually power your RV in the form of renewable ethanol fuel. But for now, every time summer rolls around, it’s easy to forget about corn’s past and future and focus selfishly on its potential for instant gratification.
Last summer, while driving home from a friend’s cottage, I chanced upon a roadside stand with a mile-high mound of fresh-picked corn. I pulled over and picked up a half-dozen ears. After speeding to my destination, I boiled up the lot, slathered them in butter and added a squeeze of lime and a pinch of ground chipotle powder. It was a sublime example of how less is more.
The following campfire recipe requires a little more investment but returns the effort in spades with big corn flavor and complex layers of spice and heat. It’s an august marriage of caramelization, smokiness and creaminess blessed with a bright lime-juice finish.
Chowder is a great way to revisit the flavor of freshly picked corn without the fuss, which makes it ideal for those of you who have avoided the cob either because you can’t stand strands of corn silk in your teeth, or you have given up eating food that requires both hands. And best of all, there’s no need to floss when you’re finished.
Fire-roasted corn chowder with chipotle
8 ears of corn, in their husks
1 red bell pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces salt pork or bacon, diced
2 leeks, white and pale green section only, finely diced
1 sweet onion (i.e., Maui, Vidalia), finely diced
6 cloves garlic, finely diced
5 cups chicken stock
1 cup half and half cream or homogenized milk (optional—if you choose to omit, add an extra cup of stock)
1 1/2 cups cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4–1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper (or 1–2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce), or smoked paprika, or cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
Pull off most of the corn husks and leave one or two layers intact on the cob. Roast corn over a hot grill, turning 1?4 rotation every 3 minutes or so, until the husk has blackened and the kernels have begun to brown (a.k.a. caramelize). While you’re at it, roast the bell pepper in the same manner until all of the skin has blackened.
Remove corn from the grill and let cool. Husk the corn, then use a sharp knife to cut kernels from the cob and drop them into a large bowl.
In a stockpot over medium-high heat, add oil and sauté pork, garlic, onion and leek for approximately 8 minutes, until they begin to show signs of browning. Remove from heat.
Skin and seed the bell pepper, then dice it finely.
In a blender or food processor, purée half the corn with half of the stock.
To the stockpot, add the puréed mixture, remaining stock, cream, remaining corn, cilantro leaves, bell pepper, salt, pepper and chipotle pepper. Simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes. Finish with lime juice.
Yield: 8 servings.
Bob blumer is the creator and host of the television prorams "The Surreal Gourmet" and "Glutton for Punishment" on the Food Network. He's also the author of four cookbooks, and when he's not at home in California, he can be found traveling in his Toastermobile, an Airstream trailer customized with a stainless-steel professional kitchen and topped with two 8-foot slices of toast.