Beat the Wheat: Gluten-Free Corn Chowder
Corn may seem meant for summer barbecues, but in my house, my mom would blanch and freeze all the sweet, juicy kernels to have throughout the fall and winter as succotash, casseroles and soups. Of the many options, I most looked forward to corn chowder: thick and creamy, with smoky bacon, sweet and crunchy corn and hearty potatoes. It was perfect on those September and October nights when you needed a warm dinner to offset the unwelcome chill in the evening air or the crappy day at school or the fight you’d just had with your little brother.
A few weeks ago in New England, after a windy, sunny day at the beach, my beau cooked me a birthday dinner. What did he make? Only the best thing ever: corn chowder! I sat at the kitchen table watching him peel potatoes, slice corn off the cob, adjust the seasoning and then add smoked bluefish fresh from the fish market. It most certainly was a meal to remember — sunburned nose, a sweatshirt to protect me from the cool ocean breeze coming through the screen door, wine and perfect corn chowder.
Summer turns to fall, and your kitchen should turn to this chowder.
Corn chowder is a comforting bowl of loveliness. You can use the last of the summer corn from the farmers market and grocery store, or thaw the corn you froze over the summer and put it to good use. Heck, you can even use frozen corn from the grocery store, if you'd like. If you're using corn fresh off the cob, it pays to invest in an electric carving knife — the corn comes off so easily, and you can cut it right into the soup. What I like most about this soup is that it needs very little flour for the roux, because the potatoes do most of the thickening. Yukon Golds are magic like that. And it's a great corn chowder base for seared scallops, smoked bluefish or even lobster or shrimp. Just toss in the seafood, if you decide to add it, when you add the warmed milk. It'll get cooked through nicely in a short amount of time.
In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, saute bacon over medium-high heat for 6 to 8 minutes.
Using a wok skimmer or slotted spoon, remove bacon from pot and let drain on a paper towel-covered plate. Keep rendered bacon fat in pot.
Measure out 1 cup of corn kernels and saute them in the bacon fat for 3 to 5 minutes, until the corn is golden-brown.
Using a wok simmer or slotted spoon, remove the bacon fat-fried corn and let it rest in a bowl while you finish the recipe. Keep bacon fat in pot.
Return bacon to the pot, and reduce heat to medium. Add onion, celery and bay leaf. Saute for 5 to 7 minutes until onions and celery soften, but don't brown.
Stir in sweet rice flour and saute for 2 to 3 minutes until flour is fully incorporated.
In a separate saucepan, gently warm the milk and half-and-half.
Increase heat to medium-high and add sherry or white wine, vegetable stock, potatoes, salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes, until potatoes are softened and mostly cooked through. Stir often to ensure potatoes cook evenly.
Add the rest of the uncooked corn, stirring often to combine. Cook for 5 minutes, until corn is cooked through.
Slowly add the warmed milk and half-and-half to the soup, and stir well to fully incorporate. Let simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove from heat, and serve. Garnish with bacon fat-fried corn and chopped chives.
Soup keeps in fridge for 3 days; does not freeze well.
NOTE: Save your corncobs! Place them in a large stockpot and cover with water, so the water is 1 to 2 inches above the cobs. Simmer for 45 minutes. Strain and keep liquid, discard corncobs. Now you have corncob stock — you can use this instead of water to make polenta, as a base for soups, or to sub in almost anywhere a recipe calls for vegetable stock.