Help me make southwestern corn chowder
August 6, 2012 2:07 PM   Subscribe

In about an hour I will be making a southwestern corn chowder for my family without a well-defined recipe. Help me do it right.

I have a bunch of fresh summer corn, and two recipes for corn chowder which I am in some sense planning to combine: this one and this one. I don't need it to taste exactly like either of these recipes; I just want it to be good. Other wrinkles: 1. I have a fresh jalapeno I thought I'd use. But I don't want the soup to be really spicy, just to have a little generalized heat; if I saute half a jalapeno without ribs or seeds in with the onions, which then gets simmered in the soup, will that be about right? 2. I have sweet potatoes but no white potatoes. Will they have the same thickening properties? (I know they taste different, obviously, but I'm fine with my chowder tasting like sweet potatoes.) 3. If I use cumin and garlic, as second recipe suggests, with fresh jalapeno instead of chili powder, should I skip the thyme from the first recipe, or will those be good together?

Or feel free to tell me killer tips for making southwestern corn chowder that don't appear in these recipes, if you have any! My family will thank you.
posted by escabeche to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
JalapeƱos are wildly variable in their heat content. In my experience, without the ribs and seeds, some taste like bell peppers (no heat at all) and others are still quite spicy. I recommend tasting the one you're planning to use to decide how to use it.

Also, I haven't had time to read this at all, but most of their articles are pretty good, so it might be helpful:
posted by primethyme at 2:20 PM on August 6, 2012

Leave the tomatoes out (from the second recipe) That's just my preference.

The sweet potatoes really won't do the thickening the way white potatoes will. You may have to use a slurry to thicken things up. I notice that the second recipe includes some flour. This should do fine. I think, too, the sweet potatoes will fight a bit for flavor dominance with the corn.

The thyme will go just fine with the other ingredients.

When we make corn chowder, we also add a bit of shredded cheese to the mix at the end. That will also thicken things up.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:25 PM on August 6, 2012

The texture and starchiness between white potatoes and sweet potatoes is completely different. A white potato will thicken your soup, a sweet potato won't.

You can skip potatoes and just use cream and some yummy, yummy butter. That should be fine.

As for your jalapeno, I think you have a good method there. Although try roasting it on the stove (fan and/or open window, though!). I roast Poblanos on my barbecue. Poblanos would be lovely in your chowder. Get the waxy part of the skin to char. Put in a ziploc baggie until cool, then gently rub the charred skin off. Mmmm. Smoky.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:25 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Use evaporated milk in place of regular or halfNhalf (if you REALLY want it creamy, use some evaporated milk and some halfNhalf), you get a creamier taste with less fat. Also, it thickens things up a bit, if you're worried about that.
posted by eralclare at 2:26 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like Thorzdad's cheese idea, although I personally hate flour thickened soups. Just...yuk.

But I'm a weirdo.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:26 PM on August 6, 2012

The best corn chowder I've ever had is at the Blue Corn Cafe in Santa Fe, and the key is using chipotle rather than jalapeno -- it's the perfect slow, lingering heat. Here's a recipe which purports to be the same one, and looks fantastic to me: Chipotle Corn Chowder.

If you're worried about the heat, cut it to 1 or 2 chiles instead of 2 or 3.
posted by vorfeed at 2:26 PM on August 6, 2012

One fresh jalapeno is not going to add too much heat to a family's worth of chowder, even with the seeds and ribs intact. They're only moderately hot peppers, most people could easily just eat one raw without too much discomfort. Just dice that baby up real fine and throw it in there, it should add noticeable heat but not be overwhelming.

Of course, your mileage may vary. There's certainly some variation in jalapeno heat (grocery store ones tend not to be very hot, fresh-picked ones from the garden tend to be a bit hotter) and there's a *lot* of variation in people's tolerance for spicy food. If anyone in your family is especially sensitive to spicy food (as in they claim to actively dislike spicy food and find some things uncomfortably spicy which many people would consider not spicy at all) then you might want to remove the seeds and ribs. Generally speaking though I'd use the whole pepper without even thinking twice about it.
posted by Scientist at 2:26 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to make a great corn chowder with sweet potatoes--I think it was a Sarah Leah Chase recipe. The sweet potatoes didn't contribute much thickening the way russets would, but it was good, if thinner than a typical chowder. 2 things that made it awesome: 1) cook some chopped bacon, then saute the aromatics in the bacon fat. Sprinkle the bacon over the finished chowder. 2) Cut monterey jack cheese into 1/2 inch dice and place a tablespoon or two in each bowl. It half melts when you ladle the soup over and gives it a luxurious texture.
posted by libraryhead at 2:30 PM on August 6, 2012

My number one suggestion here is to roast your veg first. Roast the corn so that it gets a little charred in places. Roast the jalapeno with it--it'll keep the heat level down, plus it'll give you a great peppery flavor. I'd also roast the onions--I think that the best southwest corn chowders have that smokey flavor in them, you know?

I'd also suggest adding some smoked paprika, and tasting the soup before you make a decision on the chili powder--as Scientist and PrimeThyme noted, some peppers are hotter than others, and some people tolerate the heat much better.

I wouldn't rely entirely on the sweet potatoes for thickening--my experience is that they thicken, but not as much as white potatoes would. If you have mashed potato flakes, the instant sort, my father swears by them, but I'd probably just make up a little roux...and maybe puree some of the corn.

In related news, I know what I'm making for supper tomorrow night now, so thanks for that.
posted by MeghanC at 2:35 PM on August 6, 2012

This is awesome, keep it coming! Cooking will commence shortly. Some notes: 1. Needs to be vegetarian, so no bacon, alas. 2. Cheeses I have on hand: sharp cheddar and gruyere. Will either work well for me here? 3. Thickening: sounds like this is a potential concern, especially since I'm using whole milk as in first recipe, not half and half or cream (don't have either in the house right now.) Will taking some soup out, pureeing in blender, and returning to pot do the trick? Or am I better off with Thorzdad's suggestion of a slurry, which I had to look up? Or can I add some cornstarch near the end of cooking as I would with a stirfry sauce?

OK, MeghanC's suggestion just popped up and it does seem pretty appealing. My wife and kids both love roasted onions and actually roasted scallions even more, so maybe I'll sub in some of those, since I have them. But that means I need to start now. Keep suggestions coming!
posted by escabeche at 2:40 PM on August 6, 2012

I would certainly go with a roux...equal parts flour and a fat like butter. Cook it until it slightly changes color.

Pureeing half the soup with stick blender is another pretty common angle to take with these types of soup.
posted by mmascolino at 2:41 PM on August 6, 2012

If you must a roux (but I'd rather have thin soup.) The fun in corn chowder is the textrure, so don't puree.

As for cheese, cheddar will be beddar than gruyere.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:45 PM on August 6, 2012

Corn, scallions, sweet potato, red pepper now roasting. I sampled a tiny chunk of this jalapeno (no ribs or seeds) and my mouth is still burning; this thing is from the farmer's market and seems pretty potent. What if I just remove ribs and seeds and simmer the whole pepper in the soup, then remove at the end? Will that impart some flavor? I don't think my kids would be happy if they bit into one of these dudes.
posted by escabeche at 3:08 PM on August 6, 2012

Will taking some soup out, pureeing in blender, and returning to pot do the trick?

Yes. As others have pointed out, don't do this with all of the corn, otherwise the soup won't be toothsome. I'd do the pureeing before you add the corn (most recipes add it at the end, so this should be easy to do). If you're going to put sweet potatoes in this, they're a perfect candidate for being pureed to add thickening.

A slurry would also work, but be careful with cornstarch -- I've never liked the results of adding that to soup.

Simmering and removing the whole pepper should also work fine. Taste frequently to make sure you're getting the flavor you're looking for. You can always take it out early if the soup is hot enough, or fish it out and cut it into quarters (to be removed at the end) if you want a little more spice.
posted by vorfeed at 3:36 PM on August 6, 2012

Update: made a roux. Onions, garlic, cobs, and quartered ribless seedless jalapeno simmering now. Corn, scallions, sweet potatoes, red peppers are roasted and will go in in a while. If the roux isn't enough to thicken it I'll puree some of the soup.
posted by escabeche at 3:48 PM on August 6, 2012

Thanks, Ask MeFi, for a delicious dinner! Final decisions: thickened with roux, then pureed sweet potatoes and added to soup. It ended up a little too thick, actually. No cheese. Roasted vegetables first. Simmered jalapeno in soup and removed before serving. Wasn't too spicy. Lauded by family.
posted by escabeche at 5:42 PM on August 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

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