August 14, 2013

The Maine Ingredient: Corn chowder is sweet this time of year

By BROOKE DOJNY

Six ears of sweet corn and a broth made from the corn cobs add up to a summer chowder full of intense corn flavor. The salt-and-pepper biscuits are a great accompaniment, and you could complete the meal with a chunked tomato, sweet onion and basil salad, and opt for a blueberry dessert.

 

SUMMER CORN CHOWDER

A surprising amount of corn flavor is released when the cobs are simmered in water -- flavor that helps amplify the corniness of this lovely summer chowder.

Servings: Four

6 ears of corn

Salt

4 ounces bacon, chopped

(1 cup)

2 tablespoons butter, plus more if necessary

1 large onion, chopped

3 tablespoons flour

2 cups half-and-half

12 ounces all-purpose or Russet potatoes, peeled and diced (about 21/2 cups)

3 tablespoons chopped thyme leaves

1 teaspoon sugar

Freshly ground black pepper

Cut kernels off the corn and reserve. (You should have about 4 cups.) Place the corn cobs in a large pot, cover with about 5 cups water, add 1 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Leave cobs in the broth until ready to use.

Cook bacon in a large soup pot over medium-low heat until crisp and the fat is rendered, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the cooked bits with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and reserve. You should have about 2 tablespoons of fat. Pour off any excess; if not enough fat, make up the difference with extra butter.

Add butter to the drippings and cook the onion over medium heat until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add flour and whisk until thick and bubbly, about 3 minutes. Measure out 4 cups of the corn broth and add to the pot along with the half-and-half. Whisk over medium-high heat until the mixture comes to a simmer. Add corn, potatoes, thyme and sugar and simmer, covered, over medium-low heat until the corn and potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Return bacon bits to the chowder and season with salt and black pepper to taste.

Let chowder stand for at least an hour at room temperature or refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Reheat gently and ladle into bowls.

 

SALT-AND-PEPPER BISCUITS

These are not your fluffy mile-high biscuits, but are designed to rise to about an inch and have an almost crisp bite -- almost akin to a cracker -- and they're an ideal accompaniment to chowders of any stripe but especially to a creamy brew. Fresh-ground black pepper adds a bite to the dough, and a generous sprinkling of Maldon salt is a lovely final fillip.

Makes: About 16 biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon table salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon sugar

3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut in chunks

3 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening cut in chunks

3/4 cup cold whole milk, plus about 2 tablespoons for brushing

2 teaspoons Maldon salt, for sprinkling (see note)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a food processor, combine flour, salt, pepper, baking powder and sugar and pulse to blend. Distribute chunks of butter and shortening over the flour and pulse 8 to 10 times, until most of the shortening is about the size of small peas. Slowly pour milk through the feed tube, pulsing the machine all the while and stopping when the dough begins to clump together. (To make by hand, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and sugar in a large bowl. Add butter and shortening and use your fingers to rub mixture together until most of the shortening is the size of small peas. Add milk all at once and stir with a fork to make a soft dough. Proceed with directions to knead, roll and cut.)

Turn out onto a lightly floured board, gather into a ball and knead about five times, until smooth. Roll to a scant 1/2-inch thickness. Using a 2-inch cutter or a floured glass, cut biscuits and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Reroll and cut scraps once. (Biscuits can be shaped up to 3 hours ahead. Refrigerate, loosely covered.)

Brush biscuit tops with milk and sprinkle with the Maldon salt. Bake in the preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until biscuits are risen and pale golden. Serve hot or warm. (Can be made a few hours ahead. If making ahead, underbake slightly and reheat in a 400-degree oven for 5 minutes.)

NOTE: Maldon salt, made in England, is a soft, flaky salt that is beloved by chefs for its pure flavor, absence of bitterness, and extreme saltiness. It is used mostly as a finishing salt on vegetables, meats ... anything. If you don't have it, substitute kosher salt for sprinkling on top of the biscuits.

 

Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently "Lobster!" (Storey, 2012). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula, and can be contacted via Facebook at facebook.com/brookedojny

 

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