Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Corn Chowder with Shrimp

Who knew that Corn Chowder could be such a luxurious, indulgent surprise? It sounds simple enough, almost boring, with frozen corn, sweet yellow bell pepper, onions and potatoes cooked in a broth. Ahhh, but then there’s the bacon and butter, and honestly, what doesn’t taste better with a bit of fat? Cream adds another level of sweet deliciousness, a scant tablespoon of chipotle pepper pack a subtle punch, parsley and black pepper bring a tangy bite and the garlicky, smoky shrimp bits take it over the top. Corn Chowder is definitely luxurious… indulgent… surprising. Oh yes, altogether a damned good bowl of soup! 

Fresh ingredients would be a bonus, but December isn't corn or pepper season. Frozen fire-roasted corn and peppers from Trader Joe's work just fine, as do frozen cleaned and peeled raw shrimp. Still, I can't wait to try this recipe in Fall with fresh produce and just-caught prawns, though it's hard to imagine corn chowder being any tastier. 

On Day One I topped the soup with bacon, green onions and parsley. Hmmm, I might have been overly generous with the chipotle chili powder and a slow burn built up, bite by bite. Tasty, but a large dollop of sour cream added to my bowl helped to tame the heat. Note: RL was quite happy with the level of chili heat.

Many corn chowder recipes add fresh crab to the soup, but I thought crab would add another heavy, rich, sweet flavor to this already decadent dish. Shrimp, however, might bring a brighter, cleaner note making this more of a soup-for-company choice. So on Day Two, when H came to lunch, I covered several large shrimp with a dusting of garlic powder and smoky Spanish paprika, sauteed them quickly with a dab of butter and and slid them onto each bowl along with the other toppings. That's it; no more fiddling with this recipe. We love it as is.

Fully-Loaded Corn Chowder with Toppings
Serves 6-8

4 slices thick-sliced bacon
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 small to medium poblano pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder (more or less, to taste)
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 heaping tablespoon flour
3 to 4 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 large potato, peeled & diced
1 package frozen roasted corn kernels (16 oz or more)
1 cup heavy cream (or half-and-half, or cream and milk combo)

Fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Green onion, chopped
Sour cream
Raw Shrimp, peeled & cleaned (3 to 4 large shrimp per serving, or equivalent of other sizes)
1 tablespoon butter
dash of garlic powder
dash of smoky Spanish Paprika (pimenton)

Add the bacon to a heavy-bottomed pot and cook over medium heat until the bacon is crisp and browned. Remove with a slotted spoon; transfer to a paper towel to cool and reserve. Don’t nibble too much, you will use it later. 

There should be 3 to 4 tablespoons of bacon grease in the pan (add butter or oil as needed). Add the onions and peppers to the pan and sauté until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 more minute. Sprinkle on the chipotle chili powder, thyme and flour; heat and stir for another minute. Add the chicken stock and stir vigorously until thoroughly combined. Add the bay leaf and potato chunks and simmer until the potatoes are soft but not quite tender. Add the corn and simmer for 10 more minutes to blend the flavors. Stir in the cream and bring back to a low simmer, but don’t let the soup boil; it won’t be happy. Taste, then season with salt and lots of freshly ground pepper as needed. Use an immersion blender to whiz up a portion of the soup, thickening it slightly. OR put a scant ¼ into a blender, cover with the lid and place a towel over the lid, carefully puree and return to the pot. Let the soup continue to simmer over low heat, barely bubbling, while you prepare the shrimp. (Add a bit more stock or cream if you think the soup is too thick at this point.)

Peel and devein the shrimp. I used 4 large shrimp per person, but you can adjust quantity according to size (of shrimp, not people). Slice each shrimp into 3 or 4 pieces and sprinkle lightly with garlic salt and smoky paprika. Heat a tablespoon of butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook quickly until they just turn color, barely a minute per side.

To serve
Ladle the soup into individual bowls and garnish with a dollop of sour cream, the reserved bacon, minced parsley and green onion and cooked shrimp.
OR, pour into a heated serving bowl or small tureen and sprinkle on the toppings. Ladle it up immediately.   

Note: check out the Recipe Index for other soups and chowders you might enjoy.

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