If you ask me, early fall is the best time for corn chowder. It’s just starting to cool down enough that a warm bowl of soup doesn’t sound like absolute torture, and summer veggies are still super fresh and in season. While you can absolutely make this soup in the cooler months ahead with frozen corn, it’s a little extra delicious this time of year because fresh ears make a huge difference if you know how to get every bit of flavor out of them.
One of the greatest (but also weirdest-sounding) tricks for getting the most out of an ear of corn is “milking the cob.” After you slice all of the kernels off, you use the side of your knife to scrape every last bit into the pot. At the end of the day, there’s nothing special about this stuff—it’s just a little extra corn. But it blends right in with the broth to give the soup a deeper corn flavor. You could always purée a quarter cup or so for a similar effect if you’re using frozen kernels instead (not that I’d ever ask you to go to the trouble—that sounds like a pain). But there’s something extra nice about eking out every last bit of an ingredient.
Oh and while we’re on the subject of cutting corn off the cob, don’t miss the video by the recipe below, which demonstrates the absolute easiest way to cut corn off the cob without making a big mess (no bunt pan or any special equipment required).
This particular corn chowder is special for a couple reasons: first, it’s drizzled with a little bit of sumac oil. Sumac goes perfectly with corn (try my corn and sumac salad if you have any doubt), and gives it that extra little bit of brightness. Also, I love to substitute sweet potatoes in place of regular potatoes in just about any corn chowder I make, including this one. I used to make another variation on this recipe all the time when I was in grad school: just drizzle on some sriracha instead of sumac oil, and sprinkle a little shredded sharp cheddar on top before serving. Either way, so good!
sumac corn chowder
active time: 15 minutes
total time: 30 minutes
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5 ears corn (can substitute 700g/1.5 lb frozen corn)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (25g)
2 cups chopped green onions (115g)
Salt to taste
3 tablespoons flour (25g)
1 teaspoon black pepper (2g)
1 teaspoon turmeric (2g)
2 quarts chicken stock (1800g), or 6 cups if you want it to be more of a stew
2 cloves garlic, crushed through a press (10g)
2 medium-large sweet potatoes, peeled and 1/2-inch diced (415g)
1 cup half-and-half (240g)
Toppings: sumac oil (below) and cilantro
Slice the corn off the cobs (see above video), and use the side of your knife to scrape the stripped cobs over the bowl of corn (safely scrape away from yourself). If you’re using frozen, don’t worry about this step.
Heat a large stockpot or dutch oven over medium heat for a few minutes. Add the olive oil, followed immediately by the green onions, and a little salt to taste (about 1/4 teaspoon). Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes, just until the whites soften a bit.
Add the flour, black pepper, and turmeric, and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the stock and garlic, and stir together. Bring to a boil over high heat, and then add the sweet potatoes and corn. Give it a couple minutes to come back up to a simmer, and then drop the heat down to about medium low, just to maintain a simmer. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are tender. Taste as it simmers, and season if necessary (this will vary, depending on how salty your stock is).
Add the half-and-half, give it a stir, taste it, and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Top with some cilantro and sumac oil. If the sumac oil settles, give it a gentle stir to let some of it float back up to the surface (a good trick is to pour it over the back of a spoon close to the surface of the bowl, to keep it from sinking).
3 tablespoons sumac / 25g
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil / 35g
Combine these two ingredients, and give them a stir immediately before drizzling.
Making it ahead: The soup keeps really well in the refrigerator for a few days, and stores beautifully in the freezer for 3 months (the sweet potatoes will soften and dissolve a bit, but they add good body and flavor to the broth). Make the sumac oil just before serving.