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What’s the difference between bisque and chowder? September 25, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. I’ve been thinking that a warm, inviting corn chowder would make the perfect “farewell to summer” dish, creamy and corny as it is. I had an idea for the ingredients, since I wanted the soup to be rich and gorgeous but not bland. But before I actually made it, I wanted to check what other people were putting in their corn chowders. And somewhere in my search, I encountered corn bisque.

Bisque! Even if we’ve never had it, I imagine most of us have heard of lobster bisque, that elegant dish from a bygone age. (I can picture it being served with great pomp and style on the Titanic.) I’ve never eaten it, but I remember smelling it, with its delicate aromas of lobster, cognac (or sherry) and cream. Mmmmm!!!

But corn bisque? When is a creamy corn soup a bisque and not a chowder? Turns out, when the ingredients are pureed into a single smooth, silky consistency. Chowder, on the other hand, features chunks of its ingredients in a creamy base. Needless to say, it was considered the workingman’s version, since it took a lot more trouble to create a puree in those days without a food processor, immersion blender, or blender. It all had to be done by hand. And that perfect, silky-smooth texture didn’t come cheap. Especially when the crustaceans’ shells (I’m afraid so) were incorporated into the bisque, as was traditional. Eeeeewwww!!!

Well, give me the chowder any day. But I intend to try to compensate for the pureeing with canned creamed corn. See what you think of my recipe:

Silence’s Creamy Corn Chowder

2 (14.75 oz.) cans creamed corn
1 package frozen white corn kernels, or two large ears white corn, kernels cut off cobs
1 pint light cream
1 box veggie stock (aka broth), any brand
1 large sweet onion (such as Vidalia or Walla Walla), diced
1 8-ounce box whole button mushrooms, minced
3 red new potatoes, finely diced
1 yellow bell pepper, finely diced
4 tablespoons salted butter
salt and pepper to taste

To make the chowder, melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan, such as a Dutch oven. (I love my LeCreuset Dutch ovens for soups.) Saute the onion with the salt and pepper until it clarifies, then add the mushrooms, cooking until they release their juices. Add the new potatoes, cooking until softened and glistening, then the bell pepper pieces, then the fresh or frozen corn kernels. (If the veggies start to stick to the pan during cooking, add a splash of veggie stock/broth as needed.) When the veggies are aromatic and soft, add the cans of creamed corn and slowly pour in the light cream. Stir to combine and check the thickness; add veggie stock/broth as needed to thin out to the consistency you want. Heat through and serve.

As you can see, this is all about the corn, creamy, fresh, or frozen. I’m not, for once, even adding herbs or spices to distract from corn’s delicate flavor. You could add a pinch of basil, or a pinch of garam masala, or a pinch of ground fenugreek, or even a very small splash of white wine, sherry, sherry vinegar, or the like. But I’d recommend starting with the basic recipe and modifying it later if you thought it needed something. The flavor’s delicate but rich, like a good chowder should be, and it’s thick enough to hold its own as a meal with a hearty salad and a hot loaf of multigrain bread.

Goodbye, summer!

‘Til next time,



Creamy corn chowder. June 22, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. In yesterday’s post, “Salads of the Seventies” (check it out via our search bar at upper right), I mentioned my favorite Seventies cookbook, Vegetarian Gothic (Mo Willett, 1975). So it seemed only right that I share a recipe from this Hippie-era classic, and what could be more fitting for summer than a delicious chowder made with fresh corn?

If you’re skeptical that a recipe that arose from a bunch of Hippies running a tiny restaurant called Krishna’s Kitchen—which had nothing to do with Indian cuisine—could possibly be delicious, who could blame you? This was, after all, the era of brown, heavy, deadeningly bland “health food.” It brings to mind visions of earnest vegetarians soaking dried soybeans, boiling them, and eating them plain (or, desperately trying to add some flavor, with a dash of soy sauce). Eeewwww!!!

But as you’ll see, this simple recipe is miles away from soy-sprout sandwiches and the like. And it’s super-easy to make:

               Corn Chowder

4 cups fresh corn

1 large onion

2 green peppers

6 cups milk

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon powdered garlic

1/3 cup butter

Chop the onion and green peppers and saute until lightly browned. In a large pot combine the onion, green pepper, milk, corn, and cream. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Add the spices and butter and simmer until ready to eat.

I’d of course use a large sweet onion (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla) and yellow or orange bell peppers in this soup for a sweeter flavor. (I don’t think yellow, orange or red bell peppers were available when Vegetarian Gothic was written, since only green peppers are used in the book; lucky us to have more options. It appears to have predated the arrival of tofu on our shores as well. But I digress.) And I’d saute them in butter in the heavy Dutch oven I’d use to make the soup, and until the onion clarified rather than browning. For a richer flavor, I’d add the fresh corn and seasonings at that point and saute them for a few minutes as well before cranking the heat way down and adding the milk and cream. And of course I’d add more salt and pepper! Maybe a teensy touch of garam masala for a subtle lift instead of the “powdered garlic.”

Because this is a cream soup, I’d think it would carry well into the colder months, too, substituting frozen white corn (or a mix of white and yellow) for fresh-from-the-cob. But if you use frozen corn, I’d think it would be essential to saute it until it thaws and the water has a chance to evaporate before adding the milk and cream. 

For summer, though, I’d say this chowder would make a great lunch, served up hot and accompanied by the simplest side salad of Bibb and Romaine lettuces with wedges of ripe tomato, fresh basil leaves, good olive oil, and a sprinkling of salt and lemon pepper or cracked black pepper. Yum!!!

              ‘Til next time,