I've always reckoned that I made a pretty decent corn chowder. Plenty of corn, potatoes, carrots, celery and such. But, my husband - a native of northern New England - brought it home yesterday. "That's the best corn 'chow-dah' I think I've ever had."
Me: "Hmmm. You mean better than your Aunt Clare's?"
His Aunt Clare lived in a 400-year-old house overlooking the site of the oldest school in New England. Or North America. I can't remember. She was a cook worthy of the Norman Rockwell 'Freedom from Want' illustration. She was also the one who, looking over the tops of her glasses (hooked on one of those beaded chains around her neck), said of my carefully, lovingly crafted Louisiana Gumbo, "Oh, my. Critt-ahs." She said it slowly and with deliberation, referring to the fresh crawdads that I'd sought out and bought especially for the dish. With the raised eyebrow.
Let's say that she was a tough audience. She could scare the crap out of Patrick Baboumian.
So, when Ron told me it was the best, that was high praise indeed. New Englanders don't hand out compliments willy-nilly.
Corn chowder isn't hard. A 16-ounce bag of frozen corn, a large russet potato, a pretty big carrot, an onion, garlic, a couple stalks of celery, and some pimentos from a jar. Keep it simple. Then, you'll need some vegan broth. And, a bit of plant milk. Oh, and something to thicken the stock with. You'll notice from the photo below, that I tossed in a parsnip. I love parsnips, and think they add a certain 'something' good. You don't have to add them. It's optional.
I always keep a couple of those little jars of pimentos in the pantry. They're really handy to toss into soups, stews, stir-fried vegetables, rice or pasta ... on the fly!
And, I also keep bags of corn in the freezer. The bag you're looking at got emptied into a zip-lok so that I can reach in and grab what I need and seal it back up without looking for a twist-tie. I like doing this with frozen vegetables, as I think it makes them easier to use, easier to see what you have, and how much is left.
The rough ingredients are:
1- 16 ounce bag of frozen corn
2 stalks of celery (diced) - and use those wonderful top leaves! They're 'gold'!
1 Russet potato (diced). I don't peel it. Just wash it well.
1 small onion (diced)
2-3 cloves of garlic (minced)
One small jar of diced or sliced pimentos, drained.
1 big carrot (diced)
OPTIONAL: 1 big parsnip (diced)
2 cups plant milk of your choice. I used soy, but coconut milk is really cool way to go!
3-4 cups of low/no sodium vegetable stock. You can add that fourth cup toward the end to bring it to the consistency you prefer.
Thickening agent - A slurry of flour and cold water, or Maizena Roux pour Bechamel (which you know is my preferred thickener) works best. We're talking about 1 cup of cold water with 4-5 tablespoons of flour or Maizena.
Herbs and spices? Yes, Please. I put at least 1 tablespoon (finely ground) of my favorite Everything But Salt blend from Salty-Savoury-Sweet The Tea and Spice Shoppe. But, if you don't have this:
Lots of ground black pepper
About a teaspoon each of onion powder and garlic powder (not the onion/garlic salt!)
Then, dried Thyme - about 2 teaspoons, about a tablespoon of dried Parsley, or a Fines Herbes Blend is very nice.
Oh, and note: You just might want to add a couple teaspoons of sugar at the end. Really. Corn is inherently sweet, but crops vary. Harvesting varies. Maybe the corn in the bag you bought isn't the sweetest of that crop. Add some sugar.
This is where it get's interesting. Take 1 cup of the frozen corn, the plant milk, the thickening slurry, garlic and onion powder, the EBS blend if using, and put it in a blender. Blend the daylights out of it. You want this smooth.
Now, in a heavy pot, sauté your onions, fresh garlic, potato, carrot, parsnip (if using) and celery. Add a bit of broth to keep things moving. You do not need oil. Trust me. Drizzle broth as you need. Sauté for about 4-5 minutes, then add all the remaining broth, adjust the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. Don't boil it. When the vegetables are al dente. Add the frozen corn that didn't go into the blender and the pimentos. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes more.
Now, you can add the blended, seasoned slurry of thickener, plant milk and corn. Bring the heat up to medium, for 5-10 minutes, stirring as needed, to allow the slurry to thicken the chowder. Taste. Adjust the seasonings. I almost always need more ground pepper. Taste again. Adjust.
I prefer a 'chowdah' that you almost need a fork to eat. If this isn't you, add more plant milk or broth. Do you need to add a bit of sugar? Now's the time.
I've seen many recipes that make a simple, rustic dish like corn chowdah complicated. Take the kernels off the cobs, simmer the cobs. Grill the corn. Spare me. Nobody I knew in New Hampshire did it like this. They would've laughed.
Keep it simple. And, delicious.
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