Jasper White’s Corn Chowder

I’ll likely be making Jasper White’s Lobster and Corn Chowder this weekend or next, but I had a hankering for chowder today – without quite so much work – and selected the simple and delicious Shaker-style corn chowder from White’s 50 Chowders book, the recipe below. The corn and Yukon Gold potatoes here are from Willard Farm.

The only change I sometimes make to this recipe is to use rosemary instead of cumin in step 3 for a completely different background note – either a couple springs of fresh rosemary, fished out afterward, or ½ teaspoon ground rosemary. Today I stuck to the original.

I forgot about the thinly-sliced scallion garnish in the prep bowl not even two feet away. Oh, well…still tasted great. Click for a larger version.

To go with, I made a couple loaves of simple crusty bread, River Cottage style, one of those to be frozen for later. At the end of this article, there’s a seven-minute River Cottage instructional video and recipe for the bread – do watch that video and see how easy it is. I’ve also included there Jasper White’s general notes on corn and on the importance of curing chowder (yes, some things do benefit from curing). I enthusiastically recommend his book on chowders – it’s both authoritative and fun.

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Corn Chowder

From 50 Chowders – One-Pot Meals – Clam, Corn & Beyond by Jasper White (2000)

Yield: About 7 cups; serves 6 as a first course

Corn chowder is the king of farmhouse chowders. Hundreds of recipes for it have been published over the years, but since corn and salt pork were staples of the American farm, it is likely that corn chowder was being made and enjoyed long before any recipe was ever printed. The oldest recipe I have come across is by Mary Lincoln, founder of the famous Boston Cooking School, in her Boston Cook Book (1884). Fannie Merritt Farmer, her successor, also published a corn chowder recipe in the original Boston Cooking School Cookbook (1896). A crop of corn chowder recipes followed Mary Lincoln’s, appearing in cookbooks from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and just about everywhere in between. Some were thickened with flour, others with egg yolks. Some, like Fannie Farmer’s, used canned corn (which has been around since the mid-1800s), some used fresh corn. The use of milk, cream, or condensed milk also varies from recipe to recipe. The Shakers, members of the well-known utopian community, are renowned today for their austere yet beautiful furniture, but they were also highly regarded for their cooking skills, especially their farmhouse chowders. My version of corn chowder is made similar to the Shaker style, according to a recipe from the Shakers at Hancock Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts (1900), using fresh corn, butter, and cream. Its mellow, sweet flavor and lovely pale golden color are very comforting, and it is a big favorite with children as well as adults.

Serve corn chowder as a starter, with toasted common crackers or Pilot crackers. Or serve with Sweet Corn Fritters, Skillet Corn Bread or Corn Sticks, or Anadama Bread on the side to add a delicious contrasting corn flavor to your meal.

Cook’s Notes

Since corn is the heart and soul of this dish, the success of your chowder will rely a great deal on the quality of the corn you use.

If you are making chicken stock or broth especially for this recipe, add the corn cobs (do not scrape them in this case) to that stock for more corn flavor.

Although potatoes help to thicken this chowder, I also use a bit of cornstarch to give it an extra smooth and creamy consistency. Mix the cornstarch and water to create a smooth paste, called a slurry, before you add it to the chowder.

The ground cumin adds an interesting but subtle contrast to the predominant corn flavor of this chowder. In the Southwestern-style corn chowder variation that follows, the amount of cumin is doubled, letting it stand out even more. The small amount of turmeric brightens the chowder’s color, making it a little more yellow.

For equipment, you will need a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot with a lid, a wooden spoon, and a ladle.

Ingredients

A note on this blog entry: For my own future reference, I’ve put double-recipe quantities in square brackets here – so “3 [6] medium ears” just means 3 for a single recipe and 6 for a double.

3 [6] medium ears fresh yellow or bicolor corn
4 [8] ounces slab (unsliced) bacon, rind removed and cut into 1/3-inch dice
2 [4] tablespoons unsalted butter
1 [2] medium onion (7 to 8 ounces [14 to 16 ounces]), cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 [1] large red bell pepper (6 to 8 ounces [12 to 16 ounces]), cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 to 2 [2 to 4] sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped (1/2 [1] teaspoon)
1/2 [1] teaspoon ground cumin [alternate: 1/2 teaspoon ground rosemary or two sprigs fresh rosemary]
1/8 [1/4] teaspoon turmeric
1 [2] pound Yukon Gold, Maine, PEI, or other all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 [6] cups Chicken Stock or Chicken Broth
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 [4] teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
1 [2] cup heavy cream

For Garnish
2 [4] tablespoons minced fresh chives or thinly sliced scallions

Directions

1. Husk the corn. Carefully remove most of the silk by hand and then rub the ears with a towel to finish the job. Cut the kernels from the cobs and place in a bowl. You should have about 2 cups. Using the back of your knife, scrape down the cobs and add the milky substance that oozes out to the corn kernels.

2. Heat a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot over low heat and add the diced bacon. Once it has rendered a few tablespoons of fat, increase the heat to medium and cook until the bacon is crisp and golden brown. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat, leaving the bacon in the pot.

3. Add the butter, onion, bell pepper, thyme, cumin [or rosemary], and turmeric and saute, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 8 minutes, until the onion and pepper are tender but not browned. [If using rosemary sprigs, fish them out and discard.]

4. Add the corn kernels, potatoes, and stock, turn up the heat, cover, and boil vigorously for about 10 minutes. Some of the potatoes will have broken up, but most should retain their shape. Use the back of your spoon to smash a bit of the corn and potatoes against the side of the pot. Reduce the heat to medium and season the chowder with salt and pepper.

5. Stir the cornstarch mixture and slowly pour it into the pot, stirring constantly. As soon as the chowder has come back to a boil and thickened slightly, remove from the heat and stir in the cream. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. If you are not serving the chowder within the hour, let it cool a bit, then refrigerate; cover the chowder after it has chilled completely. Otherwise, let it sit at room temperature for up to an hour, allowing the flavors to meld.

6. When ready to serve, reheat the chowder over low heat; don’t let it boil. Ladle into cups or bowls and sprinkle with the chopped chives.

VARIATION: Corn Chowder with Tomato and Basil

Peel 1/2 pound ripe red tomatoes: Score an X in the bottom of each tomato. Drop into a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds, until the skins loosen. Cool the tomatoes in ice water, drain, and pull off the skin. Quarter the tomatoes and cut out their juicy centers, reserving them for another use. Cut the tomato flesh into 1/2-inch dice; you should have about 3/4 cup. Add the tomatoes to the chowder right after you add the cornstarch (Step 5). When you remove the chowder from the heat, stir in 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil along with the cream.

VARIATION: Southwestern-Style Corn Chowder

Increase the cumin to 1 teaspoon. Just before you add the cornstarch (Step 5), add 1 small poblano chile, roasted, peeled, seeds removed, and cut into small to medium dice. After you add the cream, stir in 2 or more tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro.

VARIATION: Corn Chowder with Sweet Potatoes

To make this delectable sweet chowder, substitute 1 pound sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice, for the white potatoes. Sweet potatoes cook a little faster than all-purpose potatoes, so reduce the cooking time to about 8 minutes, then proceed with the recipe as instructed.

Simple White Loaf

From River Cottage

1 kg bread flour
10g fast-acting yeast
15g fine salt
1/2 tbsp canola or olive oil (optional), plus extra to oil the dough
600 ml water

1. Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add the oil, if using (not essential, but it makes for a slightly softer, more supple crumb), then add the water. Stir to create a rough, sticky dough. The dough really should be quite sticky at this stage – if it isn’t, add a splash more water.

2. Turn out the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, rhythmically stretching the dough away from you, then folding it back on itself. The idea is to stretch and develop the gluten within the dough, not to beat the living daylights out of it. Avoid adding more flour if you can: the dough will become less sticky and easier to handle as you knead, and a wetter dough is generally a better dough.

3. When the dough is smooth and elastic, form it into a ball, coat it very lightly with oil and place in a clean bowl. Cover with cling film or put inside a clean bin-liner and leave in a warm place until doubled in size – in the region of 1½ hours.

4. Tip the dough out on to a lightly floured surface and deflate with your fingertips. Reshape the dough into neat rounds and put on a lightly floured board to prove for around 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 250°C/475°F/gas mark 10, or its highest setting. Put a baking tray in to heat up.

5. When the loaves have almost doubled in size again, take the hot baking tray from the oven and sprinkle with a little flour. Carefully transfer the risen loaves to the tray. Slash the tops with a sharp, serrated knife and put in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5 and bake for about 30 minutes more, or until the crust is well-coloured, and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it sharply with your fingers. Transfer to a rack to cool completely before slicing.

Jasper White on Corn

From 50 Chowders – One-Pot Meals – Clam, Corn & Beyond by Jasper White (2000)

The flavor of corn combines so naturally and beautifully with other chowder ingredients, it is little wonder that this staple of the American kitchen has found its way into hundreds of chowder recipes. The essence of chowder is making something special out of what is at hand, and for many people, especially those away from the coast, corn fits that criterion. In addition to playing the leading role in Corn Chowder, it performs wonderfully as a supporting ingredient in Lobster and Corn Chowder, Savory Summer Fish Chowder, Chicken Chowder with Corn, and several others.

Canned corn has been around for more than a hundred and fifty years, and its use in corn chowder is probably just as old. I do not use canned corn, but you can substitute canned or frozen niblets by volume in any of the recipes that call for fresh corn. Canned creamed corn has an artificial flavor I dislike, and I do not recommend it. My style of cooking celebrates fresh ingredients, and I don’t like to use foods that are not in season. Since chowder doesn’t call for or need the most tender delicate types of summer corn (trucked-in cellophane-wrapper supermarket corn works fine), I am content to make good corn chowders from fresh corn for eight or nine months of the year.

Types of Corn

The best types of sweet corn for chowder are the hearty yellow or bicolor varieties. Most of the corn in the market today is one of the sugar-enhanced hybrids. Unlike the old-fashioned varieties that need to be rushed from the field to the pot, these maintain their sweetness for long periods. Because of the extended cooking corn receives in chowder, texture is not a factor. When you stop for chowder corn at the supermarket, you most likely won’t have a lot of choice, but the corn will probably be right for chowder. At the farm stand, remember that tender young freshly picked white corn like Silver Queen, which is an ethereal experience when eaten on the cob with butter and salt, will not have the same result cooked in chowder. In either case, look for large ears, preferably of yellow corn; bicolor is the second choice. And it is fine to save a few pennies and buy yesterday’s corn. Some of the best varieties of yellow corn are Earlivee, Kandy Kwik, Sugar Buns, and Tuxedo. Among the most flavorful varieties of bicolor corn are Athos, Double Gem, Delectable, and Clockwork.

I have come across early chowder recipes that call for dried corn, but I’m sure these were driven by necessity, not choice. Sweet corn is a vegetable, but dried corn is a starch. Adding it to a chowder would produce something more akin to porridge than chowder.

Cutting Corn from the Cob

To prepare corn for chowder, husk it, then carefully remove the silk. Wiping the ear with a dry towel will remove any recalcitrant silk. Stand the ear with the tapered end up on the cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut from top to bottom, keeping the knife close to the cob but not cutting into it. Then use the back of the knife to scrape away the remaining moist bits of corn still attached to the cob — what I call the “milk.” The cobs can be broken in half and added to any stock that is intended for a corn chowder; if you are going to do this, don’t scrape the cob, just leave the milky bits on to flavor the stock.

Jasper White on “Curing” Chowder

The term curing is used in Cape Cod to describe one of the most consequential (and easiest parts) of chowder making — allowing chowder to rest while the flavors meld. Do not underestimate the importance of this process. It is during the resting and cooling-off period that chowder undergoes a metamorphosis, emerging with a deeper flavor and richer texture. Once you cook the chowder and remove it from the heat, you have two options: you can let it sit for up to 1 hour at room temperature to cure, or you can refrigerate it (curing it in the refrigerator) for up to 3 days. A 1-hour resting will improve your chowder immensely, and refrigerating overnight or longer is even better! If you decide to refrigerate your chowder, let it cool at room temperature for 30 minutes, then place it in the refrigerator uncovered. Covering can prolong the cooling process, resulting in a warm center that is ideal for bacterial growth. Bacteria ruins the flavor and shortens the shelf life of food. Cover the chowder only after it has chilled completely. I do not recommend freezing chowder, because it destroys the texture of the ingredients, but the stocks and broths in this book, which are often more time-consuming to make than chowder, can be made up to 2 months in advance and kept frozen. Always date the stocks and broths you store in the freezer.

Jasper White’s Lobster and Corn Chowder

Each year that I make this, usually just once toward the end of the sweetcorn season in late September, I become more firm in my belief that this is my favourite savoury dish of all time.

Here’s this year’s result, with freshly-squeezed lemon-limeade instead of iced tea this time.

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I would suggest reading both of these recipes fully before starting so you know how they merge and fit together, mainly so you don’t forget to get the stripped corn cobs into the stock early for maximum flavor extraction.

When I took the photographs here, I was making a double recipe of the chowder, so bear that in mind throughout.

Lobster and Corn Chowder – Jasper White

Ingredients

· 3 live hard-shell lobsters (1 and 1/4 pounds each)
· 3 medium ears yellow or bi-color corn
· 4 ounces slab (unsliced) bacon or saltpork, rind removed and cut into 1/3-inch dice
· 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
· 1 large onion (10 ounces) cut into 3/4-inch dices
· 2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped (1 teaspoon)
· 2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika
· 4 cups lobster stock (recipe below)
· 1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold, Prince Edward Island, or other all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch dice
· 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (or up to 2 cups if desired)
· Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For garnish:

· 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
· 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

Directions

1. Fill an 8 to 10-quart stockpot two-thirds full with ocean water or tap water that is heavily salted. Bring to a rolling boil. One at a time, holding each lobster by the carapace (the protective shell), carefully drop it into the water. Cook for exactly four minutes from the last time the lobster went in. Using a pair of long tongs, remove the lobsters from the pot and let them cool to room temperature.

2. Pick all the meat from the tails, knuckles and claws. Remove the intestinal tract from the tail and the cartilage from the claws. Dice the meat into 3/4-inch cubes. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Using the carcasses (bodies), and leftover shells, make a lobster stock (Recipe is below). The stock will take about 1 1/2 hours to cook. Strain the stock; you should have 4 cups.

3. Meanwhile, husk the corn. Carefully remove most of the silk by hand and then rub each ear with a dry towel to finish the job. Cut the kernels from the cobs and reserve. You should get about 2 cups. Break the cobs in half and add them to the simmering stock.

4. Heat a 4 to 6-quart heavy pot over low heat and add the bacon. Once it has rendered a few tablespoons of fat, increase the heat to medium and cook until the bacon is crisp golden brown. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat, leaving the bacon in the pot.

5. Add the butter, onion and thyme and sauté, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 8 minutes, until the onion is softened but not browned. Add the paprika and cook 1 minute longer, stirring frequently.

6. Add the potatoes, corn kernels, and the reserved lobster stock. The stock should just barely cover the potatoes; if it doesn’t, add enough water to cover. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and cook the potatoes vigorously for about 12 minutes, until they are soft on the outside but still firm in the center. If the broth hasn’t thickened lightly, smash a few potatoes against the side of the pot and cook a minute or two longer to release their starch.

7. Remove the pot from the heat; stir in the lobster meat and cream, and season to taste with salt and pepper. If you are not serving the chowder within the hour, let it cool a bit, then refrigerate; cover the chowder after it is chilled completely. Otherwise, let it sit at room temperature for up to an hour, allowing the flavors to meld.

8. When ready to serve, reheat the chowder over low heat; don’t let it boil. Use a slotted spoon to mound the lobster, onions, potatoes, and corn in the center of large soup plates or shallow bowls, making sure they are evenly divided, and ladle the creamy broth around. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and minced chives.

Makes about 10 cups; serves 10 as a first course or five or six as a main course.

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Lobster Stock – Jasper White

Ingredients

· 2 pounds lobster carcasses and shells
· 2 quarts water
· 1 cup dry-white wine
· 1 cup chopped tomatoes with their juice (fresh or canned)
· 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
· 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
· 2 small carrots, thinly sliced
· 4 cloves garlic, crushed
· 4 sprigs fresh thyme
· 2 dried bay leaves
· 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
· 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
· Kosher or sea salt

Directions for Lobster Stock

1. Split the lobster carcasses lengthwise and remove the head sac from each one. Place the carcasses, shells and tomalley (lobster’s liver) in a 6 to 8-quart stockpot, cover with the water, and bring to a boil, skimming the white scum from the surface of the stock. (Using a ladle and a circular motion, push the foam from the center of the outside of the pot, where it is easy to remove.) Reduce the heat so the stock is cooking at a fast, steady simmer.

2. Add the wine, tomatoes, onions, celery, carrots, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, fennel seeds and peppercorns, and let the stock simmer and cook down for about 1 hour. Add a little water if the stock falls below the lobster shells.

3. Season the stock lightly with salt. Taste for a rich flavor. If it seems light, simmer for about 20 minutes longer. Strain the stock with a fine-mesh strainer. If you are not going to be using it within the hour, chill it as quickly as possible. Cover the broth after it has completely cooled and keep refrigerated for up to three days, or freeze for up to two months. Makes about 1 quart.

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All of the ingredients for a double recipe on my kitchen island, including seven lobsters, one of which I steamed separately for a lobster roll.

Lobster rolls: Warm the lobster meat in butter with chopped tarragon and serve on toasted top-sliced hot dog buns

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This is the meat of six parboiled 1.25 to 1.4 pound lobsters, along with a few intact claw meats that I left unchopped for presentation purposes. Three of the six lobsters were female, so I used the roe – the red masses you find in female lobsters. The roe are the little coral-colored bits strewn throughout the meat below. You usually need to chop them up a little.

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The parboiling in the recipe is important because the lobster’s final cooking is done in the assembled chowder. If you go much over the four minutes he specifies, your resulting chowder will end up with chewy lobster.

Most of the pictures herein are from 2013 before my kitchen was rebuilt (the new one is above), but I updated a couple with nicer looking 2014 and 2015 photos and added this one to show how much extra meat you can get out of the fiddly tiny legs of six lobsters. This is Jasper White’s trick to get those out easily and intact: use a rolling pin starting from the claw end of each little leg. Five seconds a leg is all it takes.

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When you cut the shells in half to prepare them for the stock, you remove and discard from each side the head sac, which is a one-inch or so bit inside the head that contains…well, gunk is the best way to put it. You’ll find it pretty quickly. You don’t want its flavor in the chowder. Also, if there’s a lot of tomalley – the green-grey liver of the lobster – discard some of it. A little is good, but too much tomalley will make the chowder a bit pungent.

Here are all the unprepped stock ingredients:

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The lobster shells and water are in the pot now, and here are the other stock ingredients after prep, including stripping the corn, whose now broken-in-half cobs are in the bowl at upper left. To strip the corn, I use a large half-sheet pan, hold the corn upright by the pointy end, and run the knife down the kernels, rotating the cob about eight times to get it all. The pan catches all the kernels and it’s the only thing you have to clean afterward.

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All the stock ingredients are in the stockpot here. The ears are actually stripped — it’s just the pointy ends where I held them that still have a few kernels on them.

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The stock after about two-and-a-half hours of slow simmering. My timing is a bit longer than White’s because I tend to make stocks at barely a bubble, low and slow. Because I do that, you can see not much liquid is gone at the point when I took it off the stove and strained it, and it’s still somewhat translucent:

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That’s good in one sense, because I never had to add water and everything remained submerged in the simmering water the whole time. However, for a single recipe, you’re supposed to end up with about four cups at the end, and you need to adhere to that instruction. What I did was strain the stock and then reduce it at a rolling boil for about fifty minutes to end up with eight cups for my double recipe, setting a timer for fifteen-minute intervals to check on it and make sure it wasn’t boiling away to nothing. You can see on the side of the pan how far down the level’s gone in that fifty minutes:

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And this is what your stock will look like when it’s at the right strength and now opaque — you’ll have half this amount in a single recipe, of course:

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Final assembly about to proceed. Note that the potatoes are just peeled and in water here. White advises in this program on fish chowder that you not dice the potatoes ahead of time and store in water to prevent discoloration because you lose all the starch exuding out of the cubes. You want that starch in the chowder to help thicken it, so dice them up at assembly time and toss them in the pot immediately along with any potato juice on the cutting board. White also demonstrates in that program how to get the claw meats out intact as I did.

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Diced salt pork (pork belly) fried up crisp and golden:

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Onions sweating. As the onions were sweating, I whipped up a batch of cornbread, which takes about five minutes of prep, and got it in the oven. See the recipe at the end here.

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In go the potatoes and corn.

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And then the stock. At this point, before the lobster and cream are added, you boil it heavily to both cook and rough up the potatoes a bit so you get more starch out of them. Check the potatoes every minute or two after his specified cooking time. When they’re done, the corners of the diced potatoes will be softened and the inside creamy but still somewhat firm.

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Finally, the lobster and cream are added and you taste and carefully adjust the seasoning. In this case, I needed to add a few pinches of salt and plenty of freshly-ground pepper, adding them in moderate amounts and retasting several times. I use the full two cups of cream per recipe, by the way. If you have presentation claw meats like I did, put those in with the rest of the lobster meat so they’ll cook the rest of the way through. Stir carefully so you don’t break up the claw meats, and remember to fish them out when you’re ready to serve.

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It’s also important that you follow to the letter his instruction on letting the finished chowder cool for an hour to allow the flavors to, as Julia Child might have said, insinuate themselves upon each other. Once you’ve done that, then you reheat — carefully, no boiling — and serve.

Cornbread out of the oven, with one piece mysteriously missing before service:

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Et voilà!

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2015

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2014

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2013

When reheating leftovers later, make sure you follow his instruction not to let it boil, or you’ll split the cream. I find that stirring frequently over a medium-low heat for about ten or twelve minutes gets it to the steaming but not bubbling point that you want.

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One thing you may find as any leftover chowder sits in the fridge is that the flavor actually intensifies, almost unbelievably so. I actually had to dilute the latest two bowls I reheated with a couple tablespoons of milk because it was too rich, too intense, even for me.

Jasper White - Genius

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This is my variation of…

Bob’s Red Mill Golden Cornbread

Ingredients

1 cup cornmeal, medium grind
1 cup cake/pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder (not baking soda)
1/4 cup sugar for slightly sweet cornbread, less or none if you prefer
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup milk

Directions

Preheat oven to 425F and grease/spray an 8-inch square pan well for easy removal of the cornbread.

Whisk together dry the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.

Cut the half-stick of softened butter in small pieces into the dry ingredients and use your fingertips to work it into the dry mix. It doesn’t have to be completely worked in as in, say, a biscuit dough; this is just to more evenly distribute the butter than brute mixing of butter in a big chunk would do.

Add the beaten egg and milk, and beat just until mostly smooth, about one minute. Don’t overbeat or you’ll end up with tough cornbread.

Immediately pour the mix, which will be quite thick, into the greased pan and bake at 425F for 20-25 minutes until golden brown on top.

Cut into nine squares and serve warm with butter.

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Another thing I’ll bet would go well with the chowder is White’s sweet corn fritters, which he demonstrates in this program. You can find his recipe here.