Chowders

I’m a fan of thick, hearty soups. Although I make miso or hot and sour soup when I’m down with a bug, I gravitate toward soups that you know are filling just by looking in the pot.

Last week, I mentioned a range of thickeners that can be added to the pot. My favorites are flour-and-butter roux, as in 30-Minute Cherry Tomato Soup. and potatoes. Potatoes have the advantage of acting as both main ingredient and thickener and can be the prominent—or even the primary—ingredient; they can be added to the pot precooked or raw. Like tomatoes, potatoes are mostly water, but the portion that is solid is almost entirely starch. As you heat potatoes, the starch softens, expands, and gels, making the soup more viscous. Keep this in mind when you’re preparing a potato-thickened soup: Potato starch gels at a lower temperature than flour. The result is a far thicker soup.
Potatoes

Hearty Corn Chowder

  • Servings: 6–8
  • Difficulty: 1
  • Print
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup frozen chopped grilled onion (about 6 ounces)
4 cloves garlic
2 medium potatoes (about 8 ounces or 1-1/2 cups diced)
6 cups Corncob Stock or Vegetable Stock
4 cups frozen Grilled Corn
salt and pepper to taste
2/3 cup half-and-half (optional)
6 or more tablespoons Grilled Tomatillo Salsa

Melt the butter over medium heat in a stockpot while you start dicing the potatoes. Add the frozen grilled onions and cook 3–5 minutes, or until they are just defrosted. Peel and smash the garlic. Add the garlic and the diced potatoes to the pot and cook 10 minutes, or until the potatoes start to soften; stir often to prevent them from sticking. Pour in the stock, stir in the salt and pepper, and bring to a low simmer; cook another 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft and start to pull away from their skins. Stir in 2 cups of frozen grilled corn and cook 3–5 minutes to defrost the corn. Puree with an immersion blender to your desired thickness. Add the remaining 2 cups of corn and cook 3–5 minutes to defrost; stir in the half-and-half, if desired, and reheat to steaming. Taste, adjust the seasonings as needed, and then ladle into bowls. Stir 1 tablespoon of salsa into each bowl, or serve the salsa on the side. Serves 6–8.

Tips & Tricks
  • This recipe is essentially my basic ratio recipe at a double batch (3 parts liquid to 2 parts main ingredient). But the ratio is less obvious because the potato is doing double duty. And like any soup, the final thickness is up to you; add more stock for a thinner soup and more potato for a thicker one.
  • If you took advantage of the season and stored grilled onions and corn in your freezer and potatoes and garlic in a cool space, you can make this recipe in under 45 minutes. For an even faster meal, use leftover baked or mashed potato, adding it after the liquid instead of before. If you’re using fresh onion, spend a little more time caramelizing it and plan to eat an hour after you start dicing.
  • If your vegetable-based stock is frozen, defrost it overnight in the fridge, a couple of hours before in a sink of warm water, or with heat in the microwave on the stovetop. In a pinch, use a very light, low-salt store-bought broth—or simply opt for water. Thick commercial stocks will not only overpower the light corn flavor but will add a hefty dose of sodium; if you go commercial, be sure to taste before you add any salt and consider saving the thickest stock for Boozy Potato Chowder.
  • Tomatillo salsa adds a bit of smoke and heat yet balances nicely with the mild, sweet corn. But other salsas and pestos are also fun. Try Grilled Tomato Chipotle Salsa if you’re trying to appease bacon lovers or Basil Pesto Base for a more Mediterranean meal.

Twice as Tasty

I first fell in love with potato soups when I was given a collection of recipes contributed by monasteries. The monks not only thrive on simple meals but have a flair for cooking with alcohol—at least a third of the book either listed an alcoholic ingredient or had a footnote that mentioned it would add “extra strength or flavor.” Gotta love those monks.

If Hearty Corn Chowder makes the potato a bit player of multiple parts, Boozy Potato Chowder is practically a solo show with a walk-on cameo from aged cheese. Here, the potato is fully the main ingredient and adds plenty of starch to thicken the dish; it may become so thick that you’ll want to extra water to the leftovers. But it’s still a ratio soup and easily adaptable to your favorite beer and cheese or a less boozy meal.

Boozy Potato Chowder

  • Servings: 4–6
  • Difficulty: 1
  • Print
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup frozen chopped grilled onion (about 6 ounces)
4 cloves Roasted Garlic
4 large potatoes (about 1-1/2 pounds or 4 cups diced)
1 cup pale ale or milder beer
3 cups Vegetable Stock or water
2 cups milk
1/2 cup grated extra-sharp Cheddar
1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh chives
1 tablespoon fresh dill

Melt the butter in a stockpot over medium heat. Add the frozen onions; sauté for 3–5 minutes, or until defrosted. Squeeze each clove of roasted garlic from its skin and into the pot; stir to disperse. Dice the potatoes, add them to the stockpot, and sauté another minute, stirring continually. Add the beer and stock or water and cook, covered, for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup to your desired consistency. Stir in the milk, cheese, and spices and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the soup stand, covered, for another 10 minutes. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle each serving with chives and dill. Serves 4–6.

Tips & Tricks
  • I tend to leave the skins on my potatoes; unless you’re making gnocchi or another riced potato dish, you’re short-changing yourself on nutrients by pulling out the peeler. The skins give a rustic look to any soup, but if you find them off-putting, consider tossing the skins into a fresh batch of stock.
  • If you know you want some chunks in your soup, pull 2 cups of the potato mixture from the pot just before pureeing. Dump them back in before you add the cheese.
  • The ingredients in this soup are fairly basic, but they can be altered depending on what you have on hand: fresh leeks and garlic, leftover mashed potatoes, jack cheese or smoked gouda, etc. If fresh herbs aren’t readily available, stir dried ones into the pot with the cheese.
  • A pale ale or slightly sweeter beer is ideal in this dish. If you’re a hophead, you could go with an IPA, but be aware that a hopped-up brew imparts a bitter note to this soup that you may want to balance with a couple of tablespoons of honey. A stout may be too sweet and make the soup look vaguely muddy.
  • Meat lovers may enjoy some bacon sprinkled on this soup. For added richness, consider blue cheese and sprouts as toppings. Although this soup is so thick it doesn’t need to be served with bread, I like to have a small hunk in hand when I reach the bottom of the bowl to mop up the remaining goodness.
  • Like most soups, the flavors here improve the second day, but there is so much potato in this soup that it also thickens with time. When reheating leftovers, don’t hesitate to add stock, beer, or water until the soup reaches your preferred consistency.
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