I wanted to have some biscuits on hand for breakfast and decided to try a different recipe this morning. They came out well – even the ones in the row on the left cut from the second gentle gathering and rolling of scraps. It’s not at all surprising because King Arthur Flour recipes have never disappointed me. I usually make Flying Biscuits from the cookbook by the café of the same name I often visited at Candler Park, long ago when they had just three restaurants around Atlanta. King Arthur Flour calls the ones I made today simply Baking Powder Biscuits. I followed their advice to use buttermilk instead of milk. Like most baked goods, biscuits freeze nicely and thaw quickly, so that’s where five of them are now.
Because you could probably call me an old geezer without me grimacing too much, and because I have a history of getting influenza and pneumonia at the same time – five days in hospital over Christmas 1997 and a much less severe episode stopped by speedy application of Tamiflu and antibiotics in 2016, when the vaccinations I had for both did not cover the strains I caught – I got permission to start working exclusively from home on 9 March and have self-isolated since then, encountering just eight people through yesterday, all at a distance. My company activated its remote work plan a week later on 16 March at noon.
Edited 23 March to add: The state of Massachusetts has followed suit a week later, shutting down non-essential businesses and issuing a “stay at home” advisory from 24 March through 7 April.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of monitoring the news minute-by-minute, so I’ve been trying to limit that to no more than thirty minutes once a day. I’ll admit I’m not successful every day, but I am certain that a normal work day followed by cooking, baking, reading, and watching shows and films from the many thousands of hours in my media collection are far healthier ways of spending my waking hours, and I remain pleased that I’ve never joined any antisocial media network. I wince at the endless hours of feverish scrolling a lot of people must be putting themselves through. During work, the twenty-one hours of live music from Transatlantic Sessions that I have makes for a mellow background. It occurs to me that this would be a fine time to bring out the data DVDs I have of the earliest series of The Great British Bake Off from a decade ago.
As far as cooking and baking go, in recent days I’ve made, along with a few other things, six quarts of my hybrid French onion pot roast beef stew, six quarts of split pea soup, corn bread, Nancy Silverton’s La Brea Bakery bran muffins, banana cream pie partially based on a recipe from McEwen’s Restaurant in Memphis, and these biscuits – see the title of this post for the rationale. Slow-cooked bacon and some freshly-baked bread are on the horizon. I may make the simple but quite excellent River Cottage basic white loaf recipe or, if I’m more ambitious, I’ll refresh my sourdough starter, which will take a few days, to make a boule. Some of those recipes are here on the site – search at the magnifying glass under Mark Twain there on the left or, if you’re on a phone, search is at top right.
Today’s breakfast was poached eggs and sawmill gravy on a split biscuit:
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Edited 23 March to add:
Sausage, egg, and blackberry jam biscuit beats sausage, egg, and cheese
Yesterday, the addition of fresh sage plus maybe 50% more carrots than usual to my instant turkey stock recipe helped it produce the finest turkey gravy I’ve ever had. The magic mix:
I also tried my hand at producing a sweet potato casserole, which I’d never made before, using the best ideas from a handful of recipes after reviewing a few dozen online. I measured nothing and decided on quantities by taste alone as I added each ingredient. Of course, when you combine sweet potatoes roasted at 400F/200C for 80 minutes, dark brown sugar, molasses, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, toasted pecans, oats, and double cream – now available in the Jersey cow variety near me – it really can’t help but taste good, but this, too, was the best example of the dish I’ve had. My visiting best mate said, “Oh, my. This is the only way I want sweet potatoes from now on.” I’m not one to argue with impeccable taste.
If I were to add an egg or two, I think I’d then call this sweet potato pie filling
Breakfast while handling the forwarded office phone and keeping out of the snow entirely today: Eggs – from Trader Joe’s because Ann the egg lady’s hens have mostly shut down production in protest of the cold – along with slow-cooked bacon and the last of the Croissants aux Amandes, sliced and toasted, that my best mate made using all-butter croissants from BJ’s Wholesale Club and brought over for Christmas. I’m not sure what recipe she used, but she experimented a fair amount with the mix of ingredients and decided that maple syrup was a step above sugar syrup. She’s right, you know.
BJ’s excellent croissants appear to be exactly – and I do mean exactly – the same as Costco’s and they both sell them for US$6 a dozen, and sometimes $5 on sale. I determined a while ago that the croissants a local upscale market sells are also identical – except their price is US$1.75 each, or $21 a dozen. There’s a good commercial bakery somewhere around here making those croissants for all three places. As soon as I discovered Costco’s were the same as that market’s, I starting buying by the dozen there and storing in the freezer.
GOES-EAST 4 Jan 2017 1512 UTC – click for a larger version
Nigella Lawson does her best in the segment below from 2006 to a) pad out the episode because they were two minutes short (I’m guessing), b) bolster the cliché of depressingly bland British food, and c) perpetuate the maddening sleb chef myth that putting a vanilla pod in dry sugar makes the whole bowl of sugar taste of vanilla – which I heard yet again last week, from Paul Ainsworth on “Saturday Morning with James Martin”. No one who has ever claimed this has actually tried doing it because it doesn’t work, full stop. Sure, the sugar bowl will smell of vanilla because – surprise! – there’s a vanilla pod in close proximity to your nose, but that’s the sole effect, I’m afraid. The sugar will taste like sugar.
An email recipe link from ThermoWorks this morning inspired a breakfast-for-dinner tonight of Eggs Benedict with slow-cooked bacon and hash browns. Their article includes a fast and easy method for Hollandaise sauce using an immersion blender, room temperature yolk, and heated butter. This cut-in-half version is plenty for four tablespoon-and-a-half servings on poached eggs:
In a container a little wider than the head of your immersion blender – a two-cup Pyrex measure in my case – place the following:
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
In a small pan, preferably with a pouring lip, melt 1 stick/4 oz./115 g butter and get it up to about 200°F/95°C. While running the immersion blender directly on the bottom of the yolk container, pour the hot melted butter into the yolk mixture in a thin stream and it will pretty quickly emulsify into Hollandaise. You may need to move the head of the blender up and down a bit to get it all to mix well, and you can finish with a small whisk if needed.
A side note on the claim in the linked article that “J. Kenji López-Alt has come up with an ingenious solution to all of these problems [of making Hollandaise]”: Utter piffle. While I don’t know if Julia Child invented the method, I do know it was in her Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1 under the title “Hollandaise Sauce Made in the Electric Blender”. The recipe employed a regular blender because immersion blenders weren’t available to the home cook in 1961.
Edited to add: I did not know the ThermoWorks blog was, like The Finley Quality Network, on WordPress, but so it seems to be. That means they got a pingback from this post of mine, and they’ve graciously adjusted their article and added a comment at the end after reading my post. I tip my hat westward.
Above that recipe, she instructs how to revive leftover Hollandaise. Many recipes you’ll find say, “Nope, can’t do that – use it or lose it.” More nonsense.
Also, I would advise against using the type of strainer they show in the article to drain the watery part of egg whites before poaching. I once tried that type with eggs that were only a couple days old – which therefore had pretty firm whites – and most of the whites went straight through. Instead, I use this perforated skimmer that happens to balance against the side of the sink perfectly. After draining, I place each egg into its own glass prep cup so they’re all ready to go in the water at the same time.
Perhaps a visitor can answer this question: Why is it that nearly every time I see whole lobsters awaiting prep on UK cooking shows, they’re uncooked but stone-cold dead? I just saw this again in the ongoing series 10 of MasterChef – The Professionals, screenshot of the daisy-pushing critters above. Because I’m so used to lobsters tootling about in my kitchen and giving me the tail-flapping, two-claw salute when I pick them up, it gives me the willies to see a passel of them lying on the work surface dead as doornails, but perhaps there’s a rational explanation that will calm me.
I could understand par-cooked, but they’re definitely raw – their colour alone tells you that. You couldn’t sell a dead, raw whole lobster here. I’m not sure if it’s against the law – it probably is – but that doesn’t matter: No one would ever buy one. My only thought is that perhaps they dispatch them moments before filming begins in order to spare sensitive viewers. That better be it – I’ve smelled lobsters that have been dead for a little while. Firing them into high Earth orbit or, better yet, the Sun, would be a better option than eating.
On the topic of how to deal with live lobsters on TV, here’s an excerpt from Bob Spitz’s Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child regarding chowder and lobster guru Jasper White’s appearance on In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs in 1994:
Julia insisted that Jasper White make his pan-roasted lobster. It was his signature dish, steeped in cognac and butter, and a perennial favorite of hers, perfect for the home cook, but there were problems before filming even began. Weeks before, during a cooking demonstration on Today, Katie Couric shrieked when a chef killed a lobster. It brought media attention to the process of killing lobsters and PETA jumped on it right away. The organization’s power made [producer] Geof Drummond nervous. “He prefers we don’t kill it on television,” Julia explained to White, sitting in her garden during a break.
“That’s fine,” White said. “We can kill it before we start filming.”
Julia shook her head. “Then we’re not teaching them anything.” She got up and walked around the yard.
“Julia, there are other lobster dishes to be made. I could do lobster quenelles that start with cooked meat.”
A decision had to be made in the next couple of minutes. Finally, she said, “Fuck ’em! We’re going to teach people the right way to do it. Fuck PETA, fuck the animal-rights people!”
Together, they concocted a way to sidestep a possible outcry. As the lesson began, Julia stood gazing at White and his lobster. “So, dearie, how do we start the dish?” she asked.
“First we cut up the lobster,” he said.
Everything had to do with the expression on Julia’s face. She kept it glassy-eyed, completely impassive. For all anyone knew, she might have been watching a mother diapering a newborn, as White dispatched the crustacean. He had a Chinese cleaver the size of a scimitar and he wielded it like a cartoon character. His hands were a blur—swoosh, swoosh, swoosh! Presto: the lobster lay in pieces on the cutting board.
Three minutes start-to-finish, 60 or 70 seconds in the pan – here are the soft, small-curd scrambled eggs as discussed below the crunchy eggs post and quoted below.
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1. Warm a plate.
2. Set a pan on medium-high heat.
3. While it’s hotting up, whisk your eggs – I use three eggs, salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of cream. The cream lends a nice silkiness to the interior of the finished scramble. Start your toast.
4. When the pan’s hot, toss in a butter pat (a teaspoon or so), quickly swirl it around, then just when it’s melted, in with your eggs so the butter doesn’t burn.
5. Use a small whisk – with silicone-coated wires if you use a non-stick pan as I do – to keep the eggs moving constantly. This keeps the curd size small and prevents the eggs from drying out on the bottom.
6. In about 70 seconds (if I recall correctly), when they’re still quite soft and a little wet – or, a little before you see your preferred texture – get them off the heat.
7. Immediately stir in a tablespoon, more or less, of sour cream – or crème fraîche if you’ve got it – to halt the cooking and add a pleasant slight tang. Transfer to your warmed plate.
The balloon above my head features a small light bulb and reads “Crisp profiteroles filled with the banana custard from that pie, drizzled with bittersweet chocolate sauce and topped with a strawberry slice.”
“The people who told us about sunblock were the same people who told us, when I was a kid, that eggs were good. So I ate a lot of eggs. Ten years later they said they were bad. I went, ‘Well, I just ate the eggs.’ So I stopped eating eggs, and ten years later they said they were good again. Well, then I ate twice as many, and then they said they were bad. Well, now I’m really fucked! Then they said they’re good, they’re bad, they’re good…the whites are good, the yellows…make up your mind! It’s breakfast…I gotta eat!”
– Lewis Black
In case you’re keeping track, eggs are now good again ’cause, for most people, it turns out that dietary cholesterol intake has little to do with cholesterol levels in the blood. Whoopsie doodle!
Tonight’s dinner – white and dark turkey, whole cranberry sauce, and Gournay cheese with garlic and herbs on toasted sourdough, accompanied by a glass of cider – was almost as good as last night’s. A tad bit less effort, too.
I’ll try warmed turkey, stuffing, and gravy in the next sandwich
The gravy definitely improved the problematic mash (see below)
Good results yesterday: Five wins, one tie, one loss.
Best turkey I’ve roasted, tying with two I’ve done in recent weeks
Best gravy I’ve made
Best cornbread, bacon, and sage stuffing – we winged it, combining recipes of Julia Child and Martha Stewart, modifying to suit us
The slow-roasted sweet potatoes worked nicely – we added maple syrup, cinnamon, salt, and pepper only; no need for butter
Best banana cream pie, made more subtle and luxurious by decreasing the sweetness slightly and adding a half-teaspoon more than the usual two teaspoons of banana extract (the real stuff)
Neutral: The peas with mint and finely shredded wilted lettuce were good, but I missed my usual butternut squash with nutmeg and white pepper and will restore it at Christmas.
Loss: I cannot recommend slow-roasted potatoes for making mashed; there was a graininess that refused to be riced away and the taste was not right. To be honest, if there had been a store open yesterday where I could get a half-dozen potatoes, I would have tossed the lot and started again. Back to the usual boiling or steaming next time for silky smooth and pure potato-flavoured mash.
America’s Test Kitchen’s idea of the perfect fried egg – offered in their weekly recipe email this morning – differs from mine in one respect: I consider fried eggs with crisp edges to be partially burnt and, like a typical Starbucks roast, a bit unpleasant. I also disagree with their use of oil in addition to butter; I think it’s in there primarily so they can burn the edges but not the butter. Oil is also going to give you rather greasy eggs unless you pat them with a paper towel before serving.
If I got such eggs at a diner, I’d cut the crunchy edges off and drop any daft plans I might have for a return visit. The same goes for scrambled eggs that look and taste like a pile of sunbaked boulders. Standards must be maintained.
Below, my perfect butter-fried over-easy eggs in progress. All they need from this point is a flip of the wrist and another couple of minutes on medium-low heat.
Slow-cooking as a time-saver? Yes, indeed. I need to slow-cook some bacon for Thursday’s cornbread stuffing (and a BLT or two), so I decided to slow-roast the Yukon Gold potatoes – the last of my cache from Willard Farm – and the sweet potatoes at the same time.
The potatoes are scrubbed clean, pierced with a fork several times each, and given a coat of olive oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt.
The bacon usually takes 80-90 minutes, which should be about right for the Yukon Golds at 285F/140C. I have another pound of bacon to slow-cook, and the sweet potatoes will conveniently be done around the same time as that second pound, three hours total. [Edited to add: The Yukons actually took a little over two hours at 285F/140C and the sweet potatoes were indeed done at the three-hour mark.]
The Yukon Golds are destined for mashed potatoes with butter, heavy cream, salt, and plenty of pepper. Baking instead of boiling means I won’t have to dry them out in a pan over medium-low heat before mashing – nor will the mashing take much effort at all. The sweet potatoes will get a maple-cinnamon treatment, but only enough maple syrup to taste because slow-roasting is going to make them even sweeter than usual.
Edited to add: The sweet potatoes came out fine, but I can’t recommend slow-cooking Yukon Golds for mash. In the end, there was a graininess that could not be riced away and the taste was not right. Boiling or steaming is best for those.
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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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.
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.
A note on this blog entry: For my own future reference, I’ve put double-recipe quantities in square brackets here – so “3  medium ears” just means 3 for a single recipe and 6 for a double.
3  medium ears fresh yellow or bicolor corn
4  ounces slab (unsliced) bacon, rind removed and cut into 1/3-inch dice
2  tablespoons unsalted butter
1  medium onion (7 to 8 ounces [14 to 16 ounces]), cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2  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  teaspoon)
1/2  teaspoon ground cumin [alternate: 1/2 teaspoon ground rosemary or two sprigs fresh rosemary]
1/8 [1/4] teaspoon turmeric
1  pound Yukon Gold, Maine, PEI, or other all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
3  cups Chicken Stock or Chicken Broth
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2  teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
1  cup heavy cream
2  tablespoons minced fresh chives or thinly sliced scallions
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.