All may not be right with the world in these modern times, but some things still are. If you want to be reassured of it, just drive down a country back road in midsummer.
That’s what I found out last week when I travelled along memory lane—or should I say, lanes. I rambled off the beaten path on a leisurely drive through rural New Jersey close to where I grew up. Did I mention that I brake for farm stands? I had my eyes peeled, determined to haul back some famous Jersey corn before I hit the highway for my long ride back to Boston.
I didn’t find any farm stands, but what I did come across were side-of-the-road vegetables. You’ve seen them, the fruits of someone’s summer vegetable patch piled on a wobbly old card table, or in a basket set upon another upside-down basket, filled with corn or squash, cucumbers, tomatoes. You’d see a sign written on a piece of cardboard with a black sharpie, or sometimes a fancier white board: cucumbers, 2 for $1.00, cantaloupes, $2.00 each (and they are huge), white peaches in a cardboard basket—
please leave the basket
—$2.00. Dribble down your chin sweet peaches that make you want cry. Why didn’t I bring home more peaches?
Leave your money in the box, we trust you.
If that doesn’t restore your faith in human goodness, then I’m not sure what will.
The Jersey corn of my youth was just as sweet and tender as I remembered. I had enough to grill a few extra ears with
, and then turned the excess into smoky corn chowder. Corn and shrimp, corn and lobster, these are summer indulgences that must be paired before the summer wanes. And when eaten together, for a few moments all is right with the world again.
You could add cream to this soup, but it’s really not necessary. Puree some of the soup in a blender and then add it back to the pot—all the creaminess you could want comes from the starchy sweet corn. Take a few extra minutes to boost the corn flavor with stock made from the cobs. You could make this chowder with any leftover corn, but grilled corn gives it a smoky, intense flavor
Size and sweetness of corn varies a lot at this time of year, so your yield may be greater if you use large ears. Leftover soup can be frozen. (If you leave out the shrimp, you can even make this a vegan chowder.) If you skip the shrimp, another option would be to add some finely diced salt pork sautéed with the onion and celery; that would add a nice contrast to the sweetness of the corn. It's a very good recipe to tinker with.
Smoky corn chowder recipe
Makes 8 to 10 cups
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely diced
2 medium potatoes, (10 ounces total) peeled and cut into 3/8-inch dice
Kernels cut from 6 medium ears of grilled corn
5 cups water, chicken stock or corn stock (see below)
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 grilled shrimp
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and celery and cook for 5 minutes, until soft. Add the potatoes, corn kernels, water, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
2. Puree 3 cups of the soup until smooth in a blender. Stir back into the soup pot. Taste and add more salt and pepper if you like.
3. Coarsely chop 4 of the shrimp.
4. Ladle the soup into 4 bowls. Garnish each bowl with some chopped shrimp and 1 whole shrimp. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.
Once you have scraped away the kernels, you can use the corncobs for a delicious stock.
Corn stock recipe
Makes 5 to 6 cups
6 corncobs (without kernels), broken in half
1/2 onion, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
2 to 3 sprigs parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Place the corncobs, onion, celery, parsley and salt in a large pot. Add 8 cups water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Adjust the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 to 25 minutes. Strain.
How to grill corn on the cob
There are several ways to go about this, but I like the following. Grilling concentrates the flavors, and the cooked corn is often slightly drier than it would be if cooked in boiling water. When left on the ears, the husks insulate the corn and it more or less steams on the grill. Some people like to soak the corn in water for about 15 minutes before grilling, but I usually skip that step in pursuit of drier, charred kernels. Once the corn is cooked, peel back the husks. If the kernels are not charred to your liking, simply throw the ears back on the grill for a few seconds.
Prepare a charcoal grill, or turn on a gas grill to medium-high heat.
Peel back and discard a few tough outer leaves of the cornhusks, leaving a few layers of husks for insulation. Peel back the top third of the husks and pull out most of the silk; don’t worry if you can’t remove all of it. Fold the husks back to their original shape.
3. Grill the corn, turning often, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until it is black and charred all over. Cut off the stem ends of the ears and peel off the husks and silk.