Corn chowder with bacon is a lovely late-summer meal that is full of fresh flavors and comforting creaminess. Not too heavy but still satisfying because of the addition of bacon, cumin, turmeric, and thyme.
Corn chowder is the king of farmhouse chowders. Hundreds of recipes for it have been published over the years, but since corn and salt pork were staples of the American farm, it’s likely that corn chowder was being made and enjoyed long before any recipe was ever printed. The use of milk, cream, or condensed milk also varies from recipe to recipe. The Shakers are renowned today for their austere yet beautiful furniture, but they were also highly regarded for their cooking skills, especially their farmhouse chowders. My version of corn chowder is made similar to the Shaker style, according to a recipe from the Shakers at Hancock Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts (circa 1900), using fresh corn, butter, and cream. Its mellow, sweet flavor and lovely, pale golden color are very comforting, and it’s a favorite with children as well as adults.–Jasper White
Corn Chowder with Bacon
- 3 medium ears fresh yellow or bicolor corn
- 4 ounces slab (unsliced) bacon* rind removed, cut into 1/3-inch dice
- 2 tablespoons (1 oz) unsalted butter
- 1 medium onion (7 to 8 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 1/2 large red bell pepper (6 to 8 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 1 to 2 sprigs thyme leaves removed and chopped (1/2 teaspoon)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/8 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 pound Yukon Gold, Maine, PEI, or other all-purpose potatoes peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 3 cups homemade chicken stock or canned chicken broth
- kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons minced chives or thinly sliced scallions
- Husk the corn. Carefully remove most of the silk by hand and then rub the ears with a towel to finish the job. Slice the kernels from the cobs and place them a bowl. You should have about 2 cups. Using the back of your knife, scrape downwards along the cobs and add the milky substance that oozes out to the corn kernels. Discard the cobs.
- Heat a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot over low heat and add the diced bacon. Once it has rendered a few tablespoons fat, increase the heat to medium and cook until the bacon is crisp and golden brown. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat, leaving the bacon in the pot.
- Add the butter, onion, bell pepper, thyme, cumin, and turmeric and saute, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 8 minutes, until the onion and pepper are tender but not browned. Add the corn kernels, potatoes, and stock, turn up the heat, cover, and boil vigorously for about 10 minutes. Some of the potatoes will fall apart, but most should retain their shape.
- Use the back of your spoon to smash a bit of the corn and potatoes against the side of the pot to thicken the chowder. Reduce the heat to medium and season the chowder with salt and pepper. Stir the cornstarch mixture and slowly pour it into the pot, stirring constantly. As soon as the chowder has come back to a boil and thickened slightly, remove from the heat and stir in the cream. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.
- Ladle the chowder into cups or bowls and sprinkle with the chopped chives. Serve immediately or let it sit at room temperature for up to an hour, allowing the flavors to meld. If you aren't serving the chowder within the hour, let it cool, then cover and refrigerate for up to a few days. Reheat the chowder over low heat and but don't let it boil.
*What is slab bacon?Really, it’s pretty much what it sounds like—it’s just bacon before it’s been sliced so it’s still in the ‘slab’ form. Cured and smoked, it also usually has the rind attached. The interesting thing is that if you can get your mitts on a long slab of pork belly then smoke and cure it, you’ve made your own bacon. If you can’t find slab bacon (or don’t have the ambition to make your own) you can try a really thick sliced bacon, instead.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
This soup is superb! It’s incredibly hearty and filling. The recipe is very easy to follow. I like that the weights are given for the onion and pepper. (Often in a recipe, 1 small onion is required, for example, and this could mean different things for different cooks.)
The ingredients are all readily available. The turmeric gives the soup a beautiful yellow color. The flavors meld together so well; the next day the soup was even better. Perfect meal-type soup, especially when accompanied with a piece of crunchy bread.
This takes a little prep work but is well worth the time to get everything ready. I did have a little trouble finding slab bacon that wasn’t sliced, but I’m glad we finally found some. It’s a little difficult to mash the corn kernels on the side of the pot. Corn is just funny that way, it wants to stay like it is.
The end result is a very nice, thick chowder with the right mix of flavors. You’ve got the smoky flavor of the bacon, the creamy texture of the potatoes, the slight crunch of the corn, all brought together with cream. What could be better? Even the little ones came back for more of this one.
Originally published April 17, 2000